“You’re clear. Cameras are frozen. Thirty seconds, Cap, make it quick.”
Steve wasted no time. Handing the driver a few bills, he slipped out of his taxi and then took to the streets, hood up and hiding his face from the rain and any potential witnesses as they passed him by on the slippery sidewalk. It was cold—nearly freezing—which made it all the more difficult for Steve to complete his task. Layers always meant a longer needle shaft, which ultimately meant a higher chance of being noticed by onlookers.
Of course, it wasn’t as if Steve was actually going to get caught; he’d been doing this shit far too long and was far too good to do something as stupid as that. It was just an extra hassle to maneuver the damn thing around, that was all.
“Okay, 10 seconds ‘til contact- 8, 7, 6-” Natasha spoke quietly through his comm, and Steve glanced up to the corner, stepping in time with Natasha’s countdown and moving at a pace that would put him directly at the corner by the time the numbers ran to zero.
“Hawkeye, left or right,” Steve muttered, as Natasha called, “three, two-”
“He’s on the left side of the road,” Hawke told him, and Steve immediately took a step to the right in reply, just as he rounded the corner and Natasha’s count ran out.
At that moment, another man- 5’11 and about 200 pounds, according to their file- stepped directly in front of him, and he and Steve collided messily. Stumbling forward a little, Steve turned his body and swung with the momentum, putting a steadying, gloved hand against the other man’s back before muttering a quick ‘sorry’ and pushing away, hands sliding effortlessly back into their pockets as he turned back around and drifted off into the crowds again. It happened in little over two seconds, and Steve was gone before the target had even moved his head.
They’d played this game many times before. They ran like a well-oiled machine, now.
“Direct hit, I assume?” Natasha asked, and Steve took a moment to glance up at the CCTV cameras his friends were currently watching him through with a dry raise of his eyebrow.
“Yes, I got a hit. What do you take me for?”
“Hey,” she huffed down the line, “don’t blame me; I can never see the damn thing when you stab the poor guys with it- even when we’ve hacked CCTV you always shield it from eyesight. Do you not trust my computing skills?” Natasha asked him, mock hurt in her voice.
Steve rolled his eyes, sliding effortlessly into the yellow taxi that had pulled up beside the road. “I have total and utter faith in your computing skills, Widow, but old habits die hard, that’s all. Hi Bucky.”
“Hey stranger. Where you wanna go?” Bucky grinned at him from the mirror and turned out onto the road again, switching his sign off and joining the busy New York traffic.
“Does that joke ever get old?” Steve asked wearily, pulling down his hood and sitting back in his seat, careful to not accidentally stab himself with the poisonous needle still fitted snugly in his pocket.
“When you let me pick you up in a fancier getaway car, then yeah. ‘Til then, I’m just your cab driver, pal.”
"Cabs are inconspicuous,” Steve reeled off on autopilot, shutting his eyes. He’d been up all night double checking their sources, making sure the target would be where they thought he would. It was always difficult to predict the movement of men like him- the ones with money and power tended to be more eccentric in their routines.
"But a Lamborghini is definitely cooler,” Bucky grumbled, signalling left and winding his window down as the lights turned red in front of him.
“Don’t smoke in the damn cab,” Steve said, before Bucky had even pulled one out. Bucky glanced at him from the mirror again, offended.
“Maybe I just wanted a bit of fresh air, huh?”
“Anything out of the ordinary draws attention to us, Bucky, come on, you know-”
“Alright, alright, fine. No smoking. Killjoy,” Bucky grumbled, hands rising back to the wheel as the lights turned again. He glanced around his surroundings lazily, a habit that had been ingrained into all of them. Cameras were in the most unexpected of places, and you could never truly be too careful. Steve had learned that the harder way a few times before.
“Long day, Cap?” Hawkeye asked, sensing the brittleness of Steve’s temper.
“Just the usual. I hate using poison. It’s so tasteless,” Steve muttered, scowling to himself as he looked out of the window.
Over the comm, Natasha scoffed. She was a big fan of poisons, and always felt personally attacked when Steve complained. “Cap, that was 0.5 milligrams of Carfentanil we just injected into his system. He’s gonna be dead within the hour. And even in the autopsy, the guy’ll be so pumped full of all the other Class-A drugs he’s been sniffing, they’ll just assume he got a dirty line of coke. We’re fine.”
“I know we’re fine,” Steve snapped, “I just… feel like I’m playing dirty when we poison ‘em.”
“Yeah- much fairer to just point a gun at their faces, right?” Bucky said, rolling his eyes fondly. “Stevie, the guy made a living off child exploitation, I think you can keep your conscience clean on this one.”
Steve grunted non-committedly, waiting until they’d turned into a road that he knew didn’t have any street cameras facing their direction before shucking off his jacket and pulling out the now empty syringe. Bucky wordlessly handed him a plastic container, and Steve threw the evidence inside, snapping the lid closed and then slipping it back in his pocket. He’d put it in the furnace later.
“At least that’s another $10,000 we get to hand off to Natasha’s charity,” Clint said cheerfully, and Steve frowned in confusion.
“What? I thought we went in a rota? Isn’t it Peggy’s turn to pick? You can’t just leave her out because she’s not here to hit you herself-”
“No, we agreed it’d be a project manager thing, remember? The one who arranges it is the one who gets to pick where the money goes- we changed it to that after the fourth argument between you and Nat that month over who’s turn it was,” Clint told him, and Natasha huffed over the line.
“I think you need to get a bit more sleep, pal,” Bucky chuckled.
“I think we need to get a bit more goddamn pay,” Steve grumbled mutinously, because really? $10,000? They may be picky, but they were good. And they did it for all the right reasons. They killed the bad guys, and then gave the money they made back to the community. Like a… a modern Robin Hood. Except more murder-y.
Not that he told any of his friends that- he’d never hear the end of it.
Honestly- this hadn’t been the route he’d expected to take when he’d been growing up. He thought he’d just join the army and protect people that way. And for a while, he had. It had been fine.
Except four months into active duty, and he’d caught two men of his own fucking unit trying to smuggle a local woman away into some dark alley to do god only knows what, and despite the fact he’d caught both the pieces of shit red-handed, they’d still walked. Free of charge, and Steve knew they’d bought off the Jury- one of them had even had the fucking nerve to brag about it a few weeks later. The army hadn’t even batted an eye, either- just popped them back into active duty as soon as they were properly ‘fixed’. Because that’s what the military needed, right? An abundance of soldiers, no matter how fucking depraved they might have been.
Steve had learned the hard way that the world he had lived in was festering in corruption and dishonesty. He’d always been naive, always assumed the best of people, but seeing what had happened to those two men- how they’d used and abused their power so easily, and then worked the system to their advantage so that they missed out on ever facing the consequences of their actions… it had changed him. He’d been shown the harsh realities of the world around him, and there was no going back from an epiphany like that.
He’d come back home pretty swiftly, after being given an Other Than Honorable discharge with Bucky, who had been serving with him at the time. Apparently, taking those two fuckheads by the collars and throwing them into the nearest wall before launching himself into a brawl with them wasn’t considered appropriate conduct in the military.
He and Bucky had come out of that fight with a black eye and a split lip between them; the other guys left with two broken legs, a broken nose and one fractured collarbone. In all honesty, Steve just wished he’d done a bit more. You could heal from wounds like that. Steve wished he’d left a reminder of what happened when you pulled that shit. It might’ve made them think twice before doing it again.
But anyway- after all the bitterness and the resentment and the worrying amount of debts that had seemed to be waiting for them when they’d gotten back home, the whole Assassin thing had just sort of… happened. What had begun as just him and Bucky, working for a few bucks that would pay for bills whilst keeping the depraved and the perverted off the streets, had slowly grown into a business and a team- people they’d met along the way who had similar views and specialized skills. People who didn’t enjoy killing, particularly, but realized that some people were just bad enough that they were really better off dead in the long run. And hey, it made for a good headline, that was for sure; Steve had seen his team’s kills being mentioned in the news more than once before. The popular opinion was that what they were doing was for the good of the people. Hell, it was probably one of the reasons they’d been getting away with it for as long as they had- the police knew just as well as they did that those people were untouchable from the ‘right’ side of the law. And so as long as they kept taking out the criminals that the government couldn’t, Steve knew everyone would turn a blind eye.
It was all Corrupt. Every damned part of it. But at least this particular part worked to his advantage. And Steve couldn’t say he had never really thought he’d be working with a Carnie, an ex-Russian mobster, a British runaway, and his best friend in order to assassinate people, but here they were.
“-Steve? You even listening?” Bucky asked him, and Steve zoned back in, frowning as he tried to recall the words Bucky had said less than a second ago.
“Uh… something about the right time?” He made a face, shrugging.
Bucky rolled his eyes again. “I was saying that we just have to wait. Build up our rep a bit more, put ourselves out there without attractin’ the wrong crowd. We’re in a pretty fuckin’ niche market here- not many people want assassins with principles. But once we get the right client, who knows? We just gotta wait,” Bucky nodded his head solemnly.
Steve grimaced. Waiting for clients wasn’t going to pay their increasingly rising rent, or help their old orphanage that was in desperate need of renovations down on the outskirts of Brooklyn. It seemed like the costs never stopped getting higher, these days, and it was a constant anxiety in the back of his mind.
“I come on the comm line for three seconds and I can already hear the moody bastard brooding. What’ve you pricks said now?” perked up a new voice, and Steve smiled involuntarily.
“Good morning to you too, Peggs.”
“No, it is most certainly not a ‘good morning’. I just had to tail some shithead for ten minutes and see he got to his flat without keeling over and dying, and it was bloody freezing. Next time that’s Barton’s job- my hair is absolutely ruined,” she said mournfully, before adding, “oh, and he’s dead, by the way. Climbed up to the roof of the opposite building and saw him through the window. Fucking idiot was trying to snort another line of crack, despite the fact his bloody insides were shutting down. Which is lucky for us, I guess. We’re all clear.”
“Good,” Steve said, nodding in satisfaction. That was another scummy human taken care of. Only about a billion more to go. “Anything else on the agenda?”
“Nope. Checked the schedule- we’re all clear for a few weeks,” Peggy replied crisply. “Which means we’re going to have to actually get back to … God forbid … our normal lives,” she said in mock horror.
Clint groaned theatrically, and Steve heard the scuffle as he undoubtedly fell to the ground from wherever he was standing in their apartment. “Ugh- do you know how exhausting it is, just serving coffee all day, without the thought that I get to play assassin on my time off? It’s grim. I’ve nowhere to vent all my customer frustration out, and I think people would talk if I pulled out my sniper rifle and took aim on them.”
“You could let me test some new chemicals I’ve been working on with Bruce down at the labs, if that would perk things up over there. I’m in need of some human test subjects,” Natasha said casually, whilst Steve just sighed again.
“Clint, please do not fire your sniper rifle at random civilians, nor feed them dubiously tested and most probably poisonous substances created by Natasha and Bruce. We have a reputation to uphold.”
“Reputation schmeputation,” Clint probably waved a hand on the other end of the comm, “we’re assassins. I’m pretty sure we're allowed to do what we want.”
“You do know the last people who used the phrase ‘we’re allowed to do what we want’ whilst trying to justify their actions to Steve were thrown across a restaurant and then stamped on, right?” Peggy piped up.
Steve frowned. “They were assholes and they wouldn’t leave those girls alone.”
It seemed his whole team sighed fondly at the same time. “You’re right, Stevie. A regular superhero, ain’t ya?” Bucky teased lightly, whilst Steve snorted.
“Don’t know about a superhero. I’m just a damn assassin.”
The shop was fairly quiet as he trundled in, shaking out the rain from his hair. He felt a little fatigued, and rubbed his eyes wearily as he pulled off his coat and placed it on the rack to his left. He smiled brightly at one of the young regulars as they walked past him and headed out, undoubtedly to the college they studied at for class, but it flickered and dropped as soon as she had walked away.
It had been a long day.
After the successful mission, Peggy, Natasha and Clint had gone out to the bar to celebrate it as they usually did. Bucky and Steve had decided to stay in and man the cafe whilst they were gone. Steve had taken a brief detour to the store in order to buy some more milk, and as he spotted Bucky wiping down the counters, he smiled and waved the bag in the air. “Brought supplies,” he declared.
Bucky grinned, and then held out his hand. “Gimme gimme gimme,” he said excitedly- because yes, Bucky Barnes was exactly the type of man who got excited about milk and whipping cream.
Steve chuckled. The bag slid across the counter and into Bucky’s waiting hands. “I bought you another treat as well.” He nodded to the grocery bag and then watched Bucky’s eyes glint in delight, hands rustling inside the bag like an excited child.
The face fell when he pulled out the box. “Nicoderm? Seriously?” He held up the smoking patches with disdain, and then dropped them back into the bag. “You actually got me excited, all for some stupid quittin’ stickers.”
Steve just shrugged, pulling them back out the bag again and fingering open the flap, tugging one out. “You made the New Year’s Resolution to quit, and I’m holding you to it,” he stated mildly, before slapping one of them onto Bucky’s forehead. “It’s a disgusting habit.”
“Oh, like you can talk,” Bucky scoffed, pulling the patch off his forehead in annoyance. He made as if to scrunch it up and throw it somewhere, but when Steve shot him a slightly pleading look, the man just grumbled and then moved it to his arm, pressing it into his bicep. “This stuff is bullshit anyway.”
Steve smiled, triumphant. “Don’t care,” he sing-songed, “you’re gonna wear it, ‘kay? At least make some sort of effort to stick to your vow to have stopped by the end of the year.”
Bucky muttered something unintelligible and then turned around to sort out the coffee machine as Steve tugged on his apron and grabbed the cloth Bucky had left behind, heading over to the tables. He cleaned them carefully, making sure not a speck of dirt remained. Whatever he said about this place, none of them could deny that they loved this little cafe. It was one of the only things Steve was actually proud of.
“Has Dorothy been in yet?” Steve called out behind him.
Bucky turned on the sink and then put a few glasses into the tub before turning around. “Not yet. She’ll probably be here- oh, look, speak of the devil-” Bucky turned his head and grinned cheekily as the doorbell tinkered, and Steve watched as their favourite customer shuffled in, her hair neatly covered by a bright yellow headscarf and eyes obscured by a pair of outlandish sunglasses.
Bucky wolf-whistled. “Lookin’ fine today, Mrs. D.”
She shot him a pink-lipped smile and wandered over. “Oh, shush you-”
“No, I mean it!”
She smacked him lightly on the shoulder, looking around. “Where’s Steven and the others today? They left you all alone again?”
With a fond grin, he patted Dorothy on the shoulder and then ducked to the other side, watching her turn one way before spotting him on the other side. “Oh!” She said in delight, “hello dear!”
Stood next to her, Steve pretty much towered over her, but that didn’t stop her from punching him in the arm. “I haven’t seen you in weeks, boy,” she tutted and shook her head, “thought you’d forgotten about little old me.”
“How could I ever?” Steve placed a hand on his heart and looked at his soulfully, “you are the only woman for me, Mrs. D.”
She laughed again. “You better believe it. Now- what’s on the special’s board today? I had to forgo my reading spectacles in favour of these snazzy ones, so I can barely read that sprawly writing of yours, James.”
Steve snorted at Bucky’s look of offense and wandered off, preparing her favourite table in the corner of the room. Dorothy-Anne had been a regular in their tiny cafe ever since its opening- every Sunday afternoon, without fail, she would totter in wearing something extravagant, and order from the specials board before spending a few hours reading one of her hilariously erotic novels in the corner of the room. Bucky had searched up the title of one of the books, once, and not even he had been able to get through it without choking and going a little red. But dear old Mrs. D seemed happy to sit and flick through them every week, not a single fuck given. She also loved to chatter, and over time the whole team had heard a myriad of wild and wonderful stories from her youth- from running away from riot police as she and her friends had marched at civil rights protests back in the sixties to taking crystal meth with Elton John at a rave in the eighties. It seemed her life had been very eventful.
Yeah. Everyone loved Mrs. D.
As he cleaned away the cups from the coffee table, he felt her hand pat him fondly on the shoulder. She sat slowly, sinking into the worn leather cushions, and smiled at him. “Do anything good today, Steven?” She asked him warmly.
Steve looked down for a second as he wiped at the table. ‘I killed a man by poisoning him today, and then vanished into New York without a trace.’
“Oh, nothing much,” he shrugged vaguely, before glancing down at the book she was pulling from her bright red handbag and grinning cheekily. “Fifty shades? What, are you mellowing out in your old age?”
She chuckled, slapping him on the arm. “Oh God, don’t you start. My husband said exactly the same thing when he saw it. I am simply reading it to see if it is worth all the hype. Everyone loves it in my book group.” She raised her eyebrows and scoffed, rolling her eyes. “Probably because all those old sods have never even heard the word ‘kink’ before, let alone experimented with one.”
Steve snorted. “Well, you have fun with that,” he told her warmly, “I’ll have your iced coffee over to you in a minute. Let me know whether the book lives up to your low expectations.”
He wandered off, shaking his head and then bumping shoulders with Bucky as he passed the other man. He stifled a yawn against his hand as he got to work on the dishes. God, he needed to sleep more. But it never seemed to come easy to him these days; although, that being said, he didn’t exactly remember a time when it ever had. He’d grown used to the feeling of exhaustion- wasn’t quite sure what it was like to live without it, really. It was fine. He could deal with it. It had probably just built up a little too much over the past few days, that was all.
He let the minutes drift by him as he lost himself in the rhythm of washing up, and by the time he had finished, half an hour had passed. He blinked up in surprise at the clock, and then pulled off the gloves. Bucky was out at the front, serving a group of customers, so Steve went and did the rounds again, clearing away the trays and mugs from all the tables.
“You should get an early night, Steven,” Dorothy told him as he passed her. She was smiling, but her eyes were a little concerned. “You seem tired.”
Steve looked over to her, and chuckled fondly. “Oh, don’t worry about me, Mrs. D,” he shook his head and then took her now-empty glass from the table. “I am, unfortunately, used to it.”
“Well then you should sleep better,” she said firmly, as if that would magically fix everything. Although knowing her, it probably would.
"Afraid sleeping won’t pay the bills,” Steve told her wryly, moving back over to the counter. He heard her scoff behind him.
“Well then, when I snuff it, I’ll put you boys in my will. I hate my grandkids anyway.” She told him bluntly, making him snort once more. It was twenty minutes later when he saw her finally pack up, putting all her little bits and bobs back into the bright crimson bag and then getting slowly to her feet. She waved to them as she tottered toward the exit, and then paused, turning back to the counter. With a small puff, she pulled out the book she’d been reading and slid it across the counter.
“Please put that in the trash where it belongs, boys,” she said lightly, tapping a nail over the cover. Bucky took it curiously, flicking onto one of the middle pages before pulling a face and shutting it pretty rapidly. “I cannot believe this passes for eortica these days. Honestly- it gives a bad rep to fanfiction, which is actually a higher standard than this garbage ever could be.” She rolled her eyes and then sighed, shooting both of them a despairing look whilst they both attempted to hide their own smiles. “Honestly, you kids these days have no idea.”
Bucky gulped and agreed wholeheartedly. She turned away and wandered off again, waving to them as she went. “Until next time, boys!” She said, throwing open the door extravagantly and then whipping her shades back on, before walking out the door.
Bucky and Steve watched her go, both of them in slight awe. Eventually, Bucky held out his pinkie finger.
“Promise me that if we ever make it to that age, that is exactly how we are gonna be.”
“Can we maybe not do this right now? Or ever. I’m liking the sound of ‘ever’ actually, I definitely think we should stick with that one.”
For what was quite possibly the hundredth time, Pepper sighed and followed behind him, her heels clacking incessantly against the tiles. She had always had a distinct talent for letting herself be known, no matter where she was. Tony usually admired that. Usually. “I disagree. I think we should actually do this, right now, this very minute, because I’ve been asking and asking for you to sort a new detail out for days now and you’ve ignored me the entire time-”
“Because I don’t fucking need it, Pep,” Tony argued, standing on his tiptoes and pulling out his favourite mug from the top shelf of his kitchen cupboards, “I am a fit, healthy male in the prime of my life, and I do not need a security detail to follow me about wherever I go!”
As he spoke, he shot a very mutinous look in JARVIS' security cameras. That rat bastard had told him that this had been a top priority visit. This is what he'd been dragged out of his workshop for. He'd thought his goddamn company might be descending into anarchy, or the board members had all simultaneously dropped dead of their own accord or- or something that had seemed slightly more relevant to the 'top priority' notification that he'd set JARVIS up with. But no, apparently not. Hence why he was stood here, at 11 a.m. in the goddamned morning, arguing with his secretary about this stupid fuss over nothing at all. He got stalkers all the time. He was hot and he was rich and he drew attention to himself; what was really to be expected there? It wasn't a big deal. He (and by he, he meant Pepper) just sicced them with a restraining order if they got too overzealous with their affections.
And yeah, perhaps this one was a little bit creepier- Tony had yet to get their name, or who they were, or what they looked like- but apparently they seemed to like Tony very very much. The first few notes had been... well, not innocent, really, but not threatening either. They'd said things along the lines of 'you and I are meant to be, Tony Stark' and 'soon we will be together, I promise'. All that creepy romantic shit. He'd heard worse being yelled at him from the sides of the street, for God's sake.
But now it seemed that Pepper had decided to take it seriously. Just because they'd managed to get their notes through security a couple of measly times. God, it was embarrassing. Like Tony had said- he was a fit healthy male, and he most certainly did not need a bodyguard-
Pepper sighed loudly, and then slammed the pile of paperwork down on the tabletop, making Tony nearly drop his favorite mug in the process (rude). “Yes, Tony, you do!” She pulled out a letter from the pile, waving it accusingly in the air and holding it with two of her fingers like it was contaminated. The look that was on her face only emphasized that- her lip was curled in distaste and her eyebrows furrowed like it gave off some sort of bad smell. “We’ve just got another one in the mail this morning. Tony, this isn’t a joke anymore- there have been seven in the past month alone, and they’re getting more and more threatening each time! You have to be sensible about this!”
Tony rolled his eyes, snatching it out of her hands and reading it hurriedly. It was written with neat, swirly letters on good quality card, like all the others had been, which was nice of them. Tony liked someone who put in a bit of effort. Not that he was gonna, y'know, ever touch this psycho with a ten-foot pole, but whatever. Tony could appreciate the sentiment behind said-psycho's actions.
If it had been possible to do whilst going through it, he would have continued with the eye-rolling. Same old, same old ‘I want to have your babies but also want to suck your blood because I’m crazy as fuck’ fanmail that he’d been getting all his life. Tony had seen it before, he really had no idea why Pepper was getting so het up about this one in particular, it really was just like all the rest, except maybe the-
“Wait,” Tony peered a little closer, “did they... fuck, did they sign this in blood?”
“We had it tested at the labs,” Pepper said, lips pursed, “but apparently it wasn’t human blood. Cats, they said. Probably a stray.”
“Oookayyy,” Tony gingerly put the letter down, suddenly understanding why Pepper hadn’t been too keen on touching it. It'd suck to get HIV this far down the line, after all.
“Tony,” and Pepper looked pleading now, he hated when she looked pleading, it always meant something serious was happening. “Please. Just put out an ad. Let’s see the potential candidates, at least. I’m worried. This isn’t just some crazy fan anymore- they’re being insistent and it’s getting worse, what if something awful happens-”
“Fine!” Tony burst out in frustration, throwing his hands up in the air and trying his best not to pout his bottom lip. Pepper and Rhodey always said it made him look like a petulant child, and he was definitely not a petulant child. He was a fully grown, mature, if slightly pissed off, adult man, “I’ll get a damn bodyguard! And they can trail me all the way to the fucking bathroom and wait outside ready with a little fucking towel to dry my hands with and a gun to shoot the next poor person who looks at me a second too long. Just completely strip me of my right to privacy. Take away any and all of my freedom. Have me monitored like some sort of outcasted leper. That’s fine. Will that be all, Miss. Potts?”
“That will indeed be all, Mr. Stark,” Pepper said happily, the sad, scared little look dropping off her face as soon as he’d caved, giving him a peck on the cheek as she passed him. “I’ll have a full list of potential candidates by the end of the week. Just try not to die until then,” she told him, before sweeping out of the room- the last thing to leave being that goddamn clacking noise.
“I’ll do my very fucking best,” Tony grumbled, pouring the coffee into his mug and taking a long, hard sip.
It was 11 o’clock on the following evening that they got the call.
“Who’s turn is it?” Peggy asked, eyes still closed against Bucky’s stomach as they both sprawled out on the couch.
“Not me,” Clint replied immediately, touching his finger to his nose. Steve followed the action immediately, and Natasha just scraped in milliseconds before Bucky. He glared at her, but she just shrugged and nudged him off onto the floor with a well-placed foot. “Sucks to be you. Now go answer.”
“Someone turn the TV down a little,” Steve told them- they at least had to withhold some level of professionalism, after all.
Clint grunted and rolled, letting his hand rest against the remote as Bucky crawled to his feet and made his way over to the tabletop, tilting his head down and picking the phone up, shooting one last mutinous glare over at his lazy friends before answering.
“Good evening, this is the Howling Commandos barbershop, how can we help?” Bucky asked sweetly, as they always did when they got a call.
That was the way it went. If the person on the other end of the line was serious, then they’d have to have asked around about them, and if they’d asked around about them, then they knew what the answer to that question was. Their business operated on word of mouth alone- advertising on the deep web just brought too many psychos to their doorstep, which wasn’t actually what they were going for. So they’d had to set up a network that ran on the contacts of a friend’s friend and good old fashioned secret passwords. It meant they were never exactly clamored after, but they got some steady business. It was enough.
There were a few seconds where Bucky paused, and then he gave a thumbs up to the rest of the team, which meant the person on the other end must have answered correctly and they actually had a potential client, rather than just a misdial.
Steve watched Bucky from across the room as he asked the person on the other end of the phone a few questions. There was a 70% chance he’d decline up front on morality grounds, but if they managed to get through the initial questioning process, then it meant another weight off Steve’s shoulders. The rent in their whole neighborhood had just shot up, and both the orphanage and his friends were struggling to keep up with it. They needed all the business they could get.
“Turn the telly back up a bit,” Peggy told Clint, poking him in the butt with her foot.
Clint yelped in surprise and cursed at Peggy, but ultimately reached for the remote once more. His hand was millimeters away from the button when suddenly, from seemingly out of nowhere, an apple hit his hand square-on. Once more, Clint yelled, shooting an accusatory glare over to Peggy before realizing that its trajectory had come from a completely different direction.
Immediately, all eyes turned on Bucky.
Steve had sat up as soon as he’d taken a look at his friend’s face, instantly alert. The other man was signaling for them to come forward urgently, eyes blown wide as he nodded and hummed in agreement to the caller.
Everyone jumped silently to their feet, looking anxiously at one another as they made their way to the kitchen. Steve was in front, vaulting the couch swiftly and mouthing, ‘what’s going on?’ at Bucky, whilst his fingers subconsciously drew closer to the gun he kept holstered at his hip.
Bucky’s mouth was hanging open, and he frantically reached over for the shopping list they kept at the kitchen table, turning it over and then gesturing for a pen as his eyebrows continued to rise steadily higher on his forehead.
Natasha procured one from the drawer and threw it at Bucky, who plucked it from the air and then began to write, fast and messy against the paper. “Right. Okay. You understand that this is a huge job, and we’ll be needing a fixed fee-”
Bucky’s hand paused half-way through the second word he’d written. In fact, his whole body seemed to just freeze up completely as Steve heard the muffled reply on the other end of the line. His face was fixed in a look of pure disbelief, and Steve had to slap him on the shoulder in order to get the other man to reply to their potential client.
“Uhhh. Right. Okay. I’ll have to talk to my colleagues about it, and we’ll consider the figure- what? Oh, well- that makes things easier. Yeah, so if you wouldn’t mind calling back in an hour, and we’ll have come to decision as to whether we accept the claim or not. Okay. We’ll talk later.”
The phone went dead, and Bucky slowly let it fall back to his side, staring at his friends with the same open-mouthed stare he’d been wearing since the phone call began.
“What the hell, Bucky?” Natasha asked, frown deep and stance wary as she looked at him.
“Yeah- care to explain that?” Steve added warily, a hand on Bucky’s shoulder.
Bucky turned, looking at him and shaking his head softly.
“He wants us to take out Tony Stark. And he’s going to pay us 10 million to do it.”
It had been 58 minutes and they were all still arguing.
“Listen,” Peggy rubbed a hand across her forehead and winced, “this is…this is big. This is not something we can just go into all guns blazing and then wait to work out the consequences later- we’re talking about one of the richest and most famous men in the world here!”
“-who’s rich and famous because of war profiteering, if what the client is telling us is true,” Clint spoke up.
“And what do we have to go off on that information? Absolutely nothing. Just his word, and his word alone. What if he’s just out for revenge, or a rival business partner?” Bucky countered, rolling another apple anxiously between his hands and flicking his gaze back to the mobile on the countertop every three seconds.
“If he were, why would he come to us? Why not just go to a bunch of mercs who’ll do it whether he’s innocent or not?” Steve argued.
There was a brief silence, and he took the opportunity formulate his next words carefully before pushing on. “Look. We just got a call from someone who obviously works close with Stark, telling us that he’s discovered the guy’s been dealing his weapons out to terrorists under the table. And he’s paying us more money than we could even fathom in order to stop it. He obviously knows us, knows our business and how we work, because otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to get hold of us. Which means he knows we’re going to have to do an evaluation of Stark before we can come to decision. What’s the problem here? We find out whether he’s innocent or not, then once we’ve got the evidence we need, we take him out.”
“You’re talking like he’s guilty until proven innocent, not the other way around,” Peggy raised an eyebrow at him, but Steve just shrugged.
“Guilty until proven innocent gives us more motivation. And we’re gonna need all the advantages we can get if we’re seriously considering this.” A pause. Then, “we are seriously considering this, right? Because we have about a minute left to decide.”
Silence again. Then Natasha nodded a little, and both Peggy and Clint followed. Bucky looked around at them all before sighing and shrugging his shoulders. “Fine. Let’s do it. But if this goes wrong, I’m gonna gloat at you all so fuckin’ hard.”
Steve nodded, grabbing the phone and throwing it into Bucky’s waiting hand. “It won’t go wrong. I’ve got a feeling about this.”
A few minutes later, Bucky put the phone down once again, and took a deep, shuddery breath. “Right. Let’s kill Tony fucking Stark.”
“Let’s ‘maybe’ kill Tony fucking Stark!” Peggy called out from the other side of the room.
Bucky huffed in annoyance. “I was being dramatic, asshole!”
Steve stared at the tab he had opened, face a mixture of anger and disgust.
The initial internet search he’d made on Tony Stark had brought up some less than savoury results- drugs, sex, girls, parties, general antisocial behaviour, sex tapes. Everything was laid bare for Steve to see.
It wasn’t good.
From what he could tell; Tony Stark was exactly the same type of person Steve had been kicked out of the army for fighting with all those years ago. Rich, with enough power to get people to bend over backwards and obey their every whim- to be able to walk out of a court without facing justice, because they threw money at the fucking jury and held enough sway to make them fear for what would happen if they didn’t listen
There were articles upon articles, all documenting various scandals surrounding him. Images of a younger version of himself, pushed up against a wall as a pair of cops clapped handcuffs around his wrists. Stories about people who had been betrayed, let down, or generally fucked over by Tony Stark.
Steve was quite frankly horrified.
This seemed like the type of person who didn’t care about where his weapons went. This seemed like the type of person who’d be up for pretty much anything as long as it made him more money.
This seemed like the type of person Steve and his team would take out.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Bucky said from behind him, and Steve jerked up, snapping the computer shut swiftly and turning to stare at his friend. “You’re wondering if you should just get your sniper and find the nearest roof, ain’t ya?” he asked, dropping to the couch next to Steve and looking over at him fondly, shaking his head.
Steve scowled. “You know I wouldn’t Buck, come on-”
“I didn’t say you were gonna,” Bucky waved him off, then reached into his back pocket, taking out his packet of cigarettes, “I was just sayin’ you were thinkin’ it.”
Steve hit the back of his hand, sending the cigarettes flying into the air and then catching them swiftly. “Smoke on the balcony or don’t smoke at all.”
Bucky rolled his eyes, but snatched them back and tucked them into his pocket once again, muttering about spoilsports and boring house rules as he did.
“You know,” he spoke to Steve eventually, “Natasha’s not gonna be able to just hack her way through this one. Any evidence is gonna be hidden in ways that she just ain’t good enough to find. But don’t tell her I said that- I fancy keeping my dick attached to my body,” he added, eyes flicking worriedly into the corners of the room as afraid she was lurking there.
Steve huffed, but unfortunately had to agree. Natasha was good, there was no doubt about that- but this was Tony Stark. He had literally designed the computer she used. His security was unparallelled; his intellect apparently one of the highest in the world. If they wanted to find this information, they were going to have to be good.
Really, really fucking good.
“Got any suggestions, then?” Steve asked him, letting his head rest back against the pillows and then turning to look up at Bucky.
“Aside from just killing him and taking the money whether he’s innocent or not, you mean?” Bucky asked, shaking his head and sighing. “Not a clue, pal.”
“Bucky, Bucky, Bucky,” a new voice—Clint—joined the conversation, and both of them tilted their heads in his direction, watching as the man sauntered into the living room, a smug grin on his face “You see, this is where you fall down. You have so much to learn in the ways of a little thing we like to call ‘infiltration’.”
Steve paused, and then sat up a little. “Wait- you’re saying we get into Stark Industries as, what, an IT guy or something? That… could work,” he admitted slowly, the little nod turning bigger as he looked to Bucky.
Clint scoffed. “No, no, Stevie, an IT guy would take too long to work up the ranks and into his circle. He trusts very few people, and even with access to the mainframe, it would still take too long to get around all the firewalls and booby traps Stark has set up inside them. Natasha had a quick scan a few minutes ago; the place is like a virtual landmine. So no, I’m not talking about an IT guy.”
At this point, Bucky rolled his eyes and poked him in the side. “Okay, okay, we get the drama- just get to the point, birdie.”
Clint batted his hand away, standing proudly with his hands on his hips, apparently not finished with the show. “Well- you want an in? I’ve got an in. In fact, I’ve got the innermost in you could possibly dream of. The miracle. The one in a million chance. The-”
“Get on with it, Clint!” Steve interrupted, throwing a pillow in his face.
Clint looked at him, betrayed, before flopping on the floor. “Fine, fine! Stark’s hiring- he’s looking for a bodyguard. Like, an up close and personal, will-be-there-every-step-of-the-way bodyguard.”
Steve’s mouth parted in surprise, and by his side, Bucky bolted upright. “You’re joking,” he said blankly.
Clint smirked. “Yeah, you’re right. That was a lie.”
Instantly, any of the hope that had been mounting in Steve’s heart was crushed, and he sank back onto the pillow. “Clint, you’re a fucking asshole-”
“-I meant,” Clint interrupted, holding up a hand, “that he isn’t looking to hire any more. Because we arranged a meeting between you and Miss. Potts, his secretary, and you’re gonna blow every other potential candidate out of the water.”
Steve stopped. Looked hard at Clint. “What? Why… why me?”
“Well, Pegs and Nat were with me when I discovered it, and we all dibbsed against going. And Bucky was the one who picked up the phone, so…” Clint shrugged, patting him on the calf comfortingly, “looks like you’re the one who’s gonna go for the interview.”
“But I wasn’t even there when you dibbsed! I was not present for the dibbsing! That’s un-democratic!” Steve argued, looking scandalised.
“Really? I’ve just found a way to get into the closest of ranks with Tony Goddamn Stark, and you’re complaining that we didn’t include you in the dibbsing process?”
“I don’t want to be a bodyguard for however goddamn long-”
“-Six month contract,”
“Six months? I don’t want to be a bodyguard for six months! I don’t even know how to be a bodyguard!”
“It’s not that hard,” and this time it was Natasha who had silently entered the room and was now sitting next to Clint, making herself comfortable on the pillow Steve had hauled at Clint’s face. “When I worked for the Bratva I was assigned as a security detail for a little while. All you have to do is basically everything you do now, as an assassin. Check your surroundings, analyse threats, and then neutralize.” There was a short pause. “Okay, well maybe not ‘neutralizing’ in the way we know it. I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to kill as many people as I did.”
Steve looked rather incredulous. “If you’ve got experience, wouldn’t you be better off doing it?”
“I stand less chance of getting in because I’m a woman,” Natasha said bluntly, “but you? You’re a 6’1 monster of a man, and could probably bench-press Stark with one arm. I’m sure they’ll love you.”
Steve sputtered. “You can’t be serious. I’m… anyway, there’s not a hundred percent chance I’ll even get through the process!”
“Why not?” Peggy this time, standing by the door. “Your record’s squeaky clean- we scrubbed your dishonourable discharge years back and keep all our business under aliases that can’t be traced back to us, and also, Natasha did a little bit of friendly snooping into Ms. Potts emails and wrote back to any of the other candidates who may have posed a threat to you, telling them the place was no longer available. You’re going to be in competition with seven other people, all of whom wouldn’t qualify. You’ll get the spot, don’t you worry,” she smiled, patting him gently on the cheek and then moving to sit at Bucky’s side. When he continued to stare at her in mild horror, she sighed. “Look, Steve, it was either you or a call to Norway to try and convince Thor to come back from whatever family crisis he’s going through and help us out- and you know he said he didn’t want in on this anymore, so it wasn’t exactly as if we had any other choices, okay?”
Steve turned, shooting them all a look of contempt before falling back on the pillows with a groan. “Ugh- fine. I’ll … I’ll take some time to prepare, and then we’ll see-”
“Interview’s tomorrow,” Clint interrupted, the stupid smirk still on his face as he feigned a yawn. “You know what, folks? I’m pooped. I think I’m gonna call it a night, and Steve, you should too. Big day tomorrow, right?”
He stood up, exiting the room quickly and leaving a dumbstruck Steve in his wake. Natasha followed shortly after, offering a reassuring squeeze of the shoulder before she left.
“What just happened?” Steve asked weakly, turning to Bucky.
“I… uh- I think you just became a bodyguard,” his friend answered, a little dumbstruck himself. “Man, am I glad I answered that phone.”
Steve sat in the comfortable chairs of the reception room and wished, for what was quite possibly the 89th time that day, that he had been present for the dibbsing.
This was just unfair. Everything was so … grand. And modern. The whole place reeked of money and power— it put Steve on edge. They’d never had a target this powerful before. It was a whole new ballgame, with a whole new set of dangers.
What if Steve’s cover wasn’t tight enough? What if they worked out his real intention here? What if they realised he had no fucking experience in how to bodyguard at all-
“Mr. Rogers?” A voice called, and Steve’s head jerked up, eyes focusing in on the short woman who was sanding to the right of him. She had long hair, dyed silver and swept into a braid down her back, and Steve knew immediately that this was not Pepper Potts. He couldn’t help but breathe a sigh of relief at that; from what he’d researched, Pepper Potts was someone you didn’t want to be messing with. Which was, incidentally, exactly the thing Steve was about to go and do.
Which made meeting her a very, very scary prospect.
“Hello ma'am,” he said, nodding his head and extending a hand. He toned down his normal friendly smile of greeting a little- bodyguards didn’t tend to look that animated- well, ever.
The woman nodded back, her returning smile about as enthusiastic as his own. “If you would like to follow me, I’ll take you up to Ms. Potts’ office.”
“Thank you,” Steve replied gruffly, getting to his feet. God, those chairs had been tiny; was this place designed for dwarfs? Goddamn.
They walked in silence up to the elevator, Steve standing at parade rest once they’d begun making their way up. Everything he saw, he stored away. The number of buttons on the elevator, the emergency exits, the type of people milling around. All of it was important.
After the two long and awkward minutes of riding the elevator, the woman stepped out and then gestured to the right, before beginning to walk again. Steve fell into step next to her, noting the ventilation shafts that seemed to run all the way through the building as he did so. They were in one of the highest floors; there were 93 altogether, with Potts’ being on the 87th. There were less offices here, the rooms far emptier, and obviously this was where the more important employees worked. Again, important information that Steve tucked away.
“Her room is at the end of the corridor, just turn the corner and look straight ahead. You won’t miss it,” the woman spoke up suddenly, grinding to a halt and then gesturing for Steve to continue without her.
Steve nodded, and then watched her turn and walk back in the other direction. He stayed behind the corner for quite a while, trying to quell the nervousness in his hands. He wasn’t even sure why he was nervous- perhaps because it was his first interview with a big corporate company like this in … well, ever.
It’s not even real. You can get through a damn interview. You’ve snapped people’s necks with your bare hands, you idiot, this is nothing, he told himself, taking a breath and straightening his tie before turning and marching around the corner.
This sure was going to be fun.
Knee-deep in engine grease and listening to Metallica on the highest volume JARVIS would safely allow him, Tony was happy.
This was his work. He loved his work- upgrading his car, adding awesome new features, changing the world a little bit in the process. It was great.
...He was going to ban Pepper from his workshop. Because she brought all the not-so-great stuff in whenever she came.
“I’ve found you a choice of three bodyguards,” she announced, silencing his music with a wave of her hand.
Tony scowled, stubbornly refusing to turn away from the tires he was refitting. “Fantastic. Put them on roll, tell them to stay away from me, we’ll be all good here-”
“I don’t think you’ve fully grasped what a bodyguard actually does,” Pepper said blandly, walking forward a few more steps and then hopping onto the hood of his car, carefully manicured fingernails tugging on her hair and releasing it from the ponytail, “God, I’ve had a long day.”
Tony grinned. “If it helps, I think I’ve worked out the bug we’ve been having on our surveillance system- it was just a few lines of coding down in the foundations of the programme, actually- no hassle to fix.”
Pepper sighed in relief, shucking off her jacket and then folding it carefully on the hood of the car, trying to avoid any patches of grease. “That does help, actually. But you know what would help more?”
“Wine. You keep any in this dungeon of yours?”
Tony raised an eyebrow, chuckling as he directed Pepper to the wine-rack he kept at the back of the shop. “Damn, Miss. Potts- must really have been a shitty day. Drinking on the job? For shame.”
“Listen, I can’t even rely on you to wear clothes whilst you’re on the job, so don’t come at me with that,” Pepper countered, as she steered herself in the direction of the alcohol and took one of her heels off in the process. She was leaving a trail of clothing and accessories in her wake.
“Fair point,” Tony shrugged, “get two glasses.”
“You think I was intending on drinking alone?” She asked, pulling out a bottle of red and then making her way around the various objects that littered her path back to Tony.
“So, Potts,” he began, getting to his feet and jumping on the hood, patting the space next to him. “Tell me what ails you.”
She sighed, handing him a glass and then joining him on the car, his feet tucked underneath her. “Aliann in IT nearly crashed the whole system today because she was watching illegally streamed movies on her computer and accidentally downloaded a goddamn virus. And then I got called out to yell at two idiots who had tried cooking pizza on the bunsen burners and nearly set the whole lab on fire. Oh, and Obadiah called in- he’s nagging me to get you to finish the schematics on the Jericho already, even though I have been trying to get you to do that for months,” she shot him a mutinous look, poking him in the stomach and taking a long sip from her glass.
“I’ll get to it when I get to it,” Tony waved it away, “anyway- you were saying you’ve found me some muscle? Do I get to see them, or can I not be trusted with any part of the selection process at all?”
“Well- I say three, but only one of them really qualifies,” Pepper shrugged wearily, “and even he isn’t as experienced as I would’ve liked. But he’s very well-trained by the looks of it, and the only option we really have at such short notice. I was surprised at the lack of turnout, actually. Thought we would’ve been able to get something a little more high profile than what we did.”
Tony rolled his eyes. Did it matter, anyway? He wasn’t in any real danger at the end of the day, no matter what Pepper tried to tell him. The bodyguard could be a ten year old kid and they’d still do an adequate job of protecting him. “Let me see him, then.”
Pepper pulled out her phone, pulling up the guy’s resume from her files. She handed it over, and Tony quickly skimmed through the pages, until he stopped at the photo.
“Don’t even think about it,” Pepper said suddenly, snatching the phone back and keeping it firmly away when Tony made grabby hands, “you are not going to sleep with your security detail. No. Anyway- the guy seems pretty stoic. The real professional type. You won’t get anything from him.”
“So we’re definitely going with this guy, then?” Tony asked, somewhat excitedly.
Pepper gave him a long, hard look. “Don’t sleep with him.”
“What makes you think I’d sleep with him?”
“Because he is attractive and human and that’s pretty much all you need? Actually, scratch that, I’m pretty sure you could make do without the human part. I’m pretty sure you’d be excited to make do without the human part-”
“Pepper,” Tony gasped, placing a hand over his heart, “are you… are you calling me a slut?”
“Would I ever say something that unprofessional to my boss?” Pepper exclaimed, copying his tone exactly.
Tony held his position for all of two seconds before flopping, sprawling out of the hood on the car theatrically. “Ugh- fine! I’ll try my very hardest not to sleep with him.”
By his side, Pepper just sighed. “That’s all I can hope for, really, isn’t it?” She asked. “Right. I’ll call him back. He starts with you on Monday, and he’ll be with you on your business trip to Rome that evening.”
Tony pouted, but ultimately didn’t argue. Maybe a security detail wouldn’t be so bad- not when he looked like that, anyway.
He was late.
Fuck. It had not been the plan- really, it hadn’t. But he’d just been so close to finishing the project that JARVIS’s seven reminders had sort of been drowned in the engineering haze- and now he was running 20 minutes late to his first meeting with the hot bodyguard, and he wasn’t wearing shoes.
Yeah. Pepper had a point about the whole ‘not wearing clothes on the job’ thing.
Skidding through the corridors and trying desperately to rub a smear of dirt off his arm, he took a quick glance to the mirrored wall on his left.
Yep. Garbage. He looked like garbage.
He couldn’t quite remember the last time he’d slept, and the clothes were probably about fourteen years old. Not exactly the best first impression to make when meeting a new employee. Especially a hot one. But whatever- he was getting paid, so it didn’t matter what Tony looked like.
Taking the stairs two at a time, he slid through the main reception doors and looked around for Pepper, who would undoubtedly be making small-talk with Rogers whilst she cursed Tony’s name in her head and thought about ways she could get him back for this.
It didn’t take long to spot them- the two hottest people in the room always tended to draw his eye, after all.
“I’M HERE!” He yelled, stumbling forward and waving. “I’m here! It’s fine, sorry I’m late- caught up in a thing. It’s sorted now though. All good,” he rambled, bumping into Pepper’s shoulder as he tried to steady himself. He was a little out of breath from the run down the stairs, but that was the least of his worries, really.
Rogers was looking at him, and he appeared very confused. He kept blinking a lot. “Uh. Mr. Stark. Hello. My name’s St-”
“Steve Rogers, my brand spanking new bodyguard, yes, hello, hi, I’m Tony,” he jumped in, wincing internally as he did so. That sounded dismissive. He hadn’t intended to sound dismissive. Dismissive was not what he had been going for.
Eh. Whatever. It wasn't like that wasn't the impression he gave out to everyone anyway.
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Stark,” Steve said, lips pursed as he held out a hand.
Oh God. He really was stoic. There was barely an emotion on his face at all.
Tony grabbed his hand, shaking firmly and following it up with a smile, which Rogers returned thinly.
“I apologise for Mr. Stark’s lack of footwear. Or personal hygiene. I’m afraid he isn’t so great at acting like a normal human being when he’s down in his workshop,” Pepper explained, shooting Steve a smile and then stepping on Tony’s exposed toes with her sole as she moved. Tony barely bit back a yelp- Pepper was heavy. “I’ll leave you two to it. I’ve already given him the tour, Tony, so you don’t need to bother with that. Just acquaint yourselves- you’re going to be spending a few days together and so you’re going to need to be able to get along,” Pepper spoke the last bit quietly to Tony, and he looked at her, offended. Why did she just assume he would need to work on trying to get on with him? He was a natural at getting on with people. He could get on with people he didn’t even know—in both meanings of the phrase—
Pepper bid her goodbyes to both of them, and then Tony was left alone with his new bodyguard, still stood to attention by his side. Tony gave him the once over, eyebrow raised. “Ex-army?” He asked.
Rogers jerked a little, looking at him with slightly widened eyes. “Uh. Yes.”
Right. Good conversation. Tony shuffled on his bare feet a few seconds, before blurting, “my best friend’s in the air force. Best pilot you’ll ever see, honest to God. That’s how I knew… you, uh… you stand like him.”
“Oh. Right,” Rogers looked down at his posture for a second, before visibly making the effort to relax a little. There was silence once more, and Tony looked hopelessly at his surroundings. God, he hadn’t had someone this uncooperative since the fateful charity Gala of ‘02-
“So I think I need some time to plan our route-”
“Let’s go get food,” Tony blurted, again, because he seemed to be set on interrupting everything Rogers said. “Please. I think it’s probably for the best- I feel like you would actively endanger me if I had to be around this awkward silence for three days. I’m well known for jumping out of windows to escape bad conversations.”
At Rogers’ sudden wide eyes, Tony hasted to correct himself. “A joke. That was a joke.”
“You make jokes like that a lot- sir?” Rogers asked him, his body tense once again.
Tony rubbed a hand across his forehead. “Oh God, okay, yes, that was in bad taste, I apologize, I am usually better at this? Listen, let’s just… go get some food, and get to know each other? Please? Because Pepper will have my head if I manage to irritate my own bodyguard into beating me up, that will just be embarrassing for everyone-”
“I’m not going to beat you up, sir,” Rogers said, with a tiny huff that could almost be considered a half-laugh, which was good! Tony clapped his hands, rolling with the tiny show of emotion and hoping it was enough to get Rogers to agree to go out with him.
For food. Food only.
“Okay, as your new boss, I’m going to initiate rule number one,” Tony said, raising a finger. “No ‘sir’. You make me feel like my old man. Tony is fine. Or hot stuff, if you feel like it,” he added with a grin.
Rogers, looking utterly unimpressed, just nodded. Tony had the feeling he was holding back an eye-roll.
“Rule number 2,” Tony soldiered on, raising a second finger, “you have to accompany me to get food. Who knows? I might get ambushed along the way. It would be bad form for me to get murdered on the first day of your job.”
Rogers smiled, but it was empty. Tony was hit with a sudden flare of irritation- he was trying, okay, he didn’t exactly like this situation either, but he didn’t really have much fucking choice, and Rogers was acting like a stand-offish dick, Tony could just fire him on the spot if he wanted to-
“I’ll come with you,” Rogers said, nodding once and then looking at Tony with a slightly raised eyebrow, “although can I suggest you put on some shoes first? For your own personal safety, of course.”
Tony let out a little noise of surprise as he remembered the state of himself, and nodded jerkily. “Ah. Yes. Good idea, you’ll do well here, Rogers. Right. Stay here,” Tony said, backing away in the direction of the elevator. “I’ll be back in like, two minutes.”
Rogers nodded curtly, and once the elevator doors had closed, Tony pulled a face and leant back against the wall with a sigh.
Well. Steve Rogers sure seemed like the most un-fun person in history. He hadn’t even smiled once- and Tony had been told many times that his smiles were contagious (“but only because we’re laughing at you, not with you,” Rhodey confirmed solemnly, whilst Pepper nodded in the background). What the hell was with him? Yeah, Tony got the whole ‘professionalism’ thing- but surely he could at least look like he was vaguely interested in Tony.
“Ugh,” he muttered, looking at his ragged reflection in the reflective surface of the wall, “this is gonna be fun.”
Tony Stark was an asshole.
Steve had known it before they’d met, and he was only more convinced now. If the lateness hadn’t sealed the deal, then the way Stark had been constantly interrupting anything Steve had to say certainly was. It was exactly like everyone had said it would be- Tony Stark was a cocky bastard, with no regard for others.
Helpful characteristics for someone selling weapons to terrorists, Steve’s mind supplied ominously.
God- he couldn’t wait to find the evidence he needed and just get out of there. The suit he was wearing was already beginning to scratch uncomfortably.
“So you don’t like me, do you,” Stark stated, as he bit down into his sandwich.
If Steve had actually been eating his, he probably would’ve choked on it. Instead, he jerked his head up to meet Stark’s eye.
They were, what- three hours into this- and Stark was already on to him. Fuck. He was terrible at this, see, he couldn’t control his emotions, that’s why they should’ve sent Natasha or Clint in for this, not him-
“Don’t worry,” Stark said, waving him off and shrugging, “it’s a normal reaction. I’m not gonna hold it to you. What was it that did it for you?”
“Sir,” Steve started, flustered, but Stark gave him a dirty look at that, and he quickly corrected himself, despite how odd it felt to call someone he disliked by their first name. “sorry, I mean, Tony-”
“No, no, seriously,” Stark leaned forward a little, shoving his plate to the side as he observed Steve, his eyes piercing as they roved across him. His lips were parted, hair still a complete mess, and every line of his body was sharp. “What was it? The overabundance of money? The slutty reputation? Or just bad reputation in general?”
“Sir- Tony, please, I haven’t got any problems with you, and I’d prefer it if you didn’t bring this up,” Steve said, a little snappily, “I’m your security detail, and I’m here to do my job. I have no feelings, negative or otherwise, toward you.”
Stark looked at him, that same piercing gaze, until eventually he shrugged and leaned back, the sharpness gone, leaving only an empty smile and tired composure. He looked exhausted; Steve doubted he had slept for a while, if the depth of his under-eye circles were anything to go by.
“I should just fire you,” he said casually, picking up his sandwich and continuing to eat, oblivious to Steve’s wide eyes.
Oh God. He’d fucked up within the first day. This couldn’t be happening- usually he was so much better at this, goddamnit-
“Listen, Steve,” Stark said wearily, rubbing his eyes, “if you have a problem with me, then this just isn’t going to work. You’re going to be around me a lot, and I can’t be bothered dealing with someone giving me the damn stink-eye every step of the way-”
“I don’t dislike you,” Steve lied, desperate. He bit his lip, thinking of what he could say. “I just… I’ll be honest with you- this is my first time working for someone as famous as you. The clients I’ve worked with before, they were mostly just paranoid CEO’s with nothing to worry about. You? From what Miss Potts was telling me, you’re facing a genuine threat. And I’m just… trying to act as professional as I can, because I quite frankly have no idea what the fuck I’m doing,” he babbled, mixing what he could of the truth in with the lies and hoping Stark would take the bait.
It was a gamble. But Steve was a good judge of character, and he was relying on Stark’s unpredictability and impulsiveness to see him through.
Which it did. Luckily. Because Stark huffed a little and smiled, nodding serenely. “So you don’t have a secret passionate hatred for me? Comforting. But if it’s all the same, please feel free to act as unprofessionally as you please around me. I don’t know what Pep’s been telling you, but the threats really aren’t that serious, and so I wouldn’t worry too much about it.”
Steve smiled, nodding his head. “Unprofessional it is, then,” he said lightly, picking up his sandwich and taking a bite.
Great. Right. Pretending to like Tony Stark. He could do that. It was dangerous territory, Steve knew that, but it seemed like the only option he had if he wanted to keep the job at all.
He could do it. He was good at his job.
He could do it.
He had no idea how he was going to do it.
Watching Stark as he stood up on podiums, flashed his shark-toothed smile to benefactors, splurged his wealth, and stuck his middle finger up at reporters just made everything in Steve want to goddamn shoot him. Get it over with and leave to help someone who actually needed it.
He’s not ashamed, Steve thought, watching from the wings as Stark described the latest weapon he’d designed in avid detail, something similar to a look of outright adoration on his face as he looked at the schematics. The plans for a weapon of destruction. He’s proud of the blood on his hands.
He shook his head, keeping his eyes fixed on the crowd. Whatever his thoughts were, he still had a job to do- although in all honesty, at that point in the night he probably would have been happy to just let the man’s stalker have it out with him and see where it went. Pepper had warned him they were unstable and appeared to be following him wherever he went, but unfortunately, as Stark stepped down with a bow and walked off the stage toward Steve, it seemed they had yet to reveal themselves.
“Catch anything funny whilst you were glaring at the audience from the wings?” Stark asked, moving into step with Steve as he ushered them out through the exit.
Steve shook his head. “No one out of the ordinary. Best just head up to your room for the night though, just in case. I don’t want to take any chances when I’m in a place I don’t know.”
Steve expected a fight. A roll of the eyes and an argument, with Stark demanding to go to wherever the party was loudest and most dangerous. Instead, the man just nodded, stifling a yawn with his spare hand as the other yanked on his tie.
Steve looked at him in confusion. “Tired?” He asked, trying to get a read on the sudden lack of interest in continuing his socializing.
Stark just smiled, a little wearily. “Oh, perpetually so, Rogers. Trying to appeal to the masses 24/7 is hard work.”
Steve just nodded like he understood, and they were silent for the rest of the way up. When Steve opened the door to Stark’s room and did a brief sweep, it took less than three seconds for the man to fall face-first into the bed and curl up into a little ball amongst the pillows.
Steve watched him with a frown. The way he looked, the way he held himself now, was very different to what he had been like mere minutes ago. Whereas before, Stark’s presence had been big and bold and commandeering, now he just seemed ... small. Tired.
Shaking his head, he straightened up and made his way back out of the room. “Goodnight, Tony,” he said, not waiting for Stark’s reply before shutting the door.
Twenty-four hours later, and Tony’s persona had taken a complete 180 yet again- no longer quiet or meek in the slightest, and instead at the bar, alcohol flowing and tempers running high as they usually tended to do whenever Tony Stark stepped into a room.
Steve watched, trying so damn hard to keep the look of disgust off his face as Tony deliberately picked a fight with one of the guests, which ended in them storming off angrily, drink forgotten by the bar.
“Why do you do that?” He blurted, before even realising what he was saying.
Tony paused, and then turned to Steve, flashing the same shark grin he’d had plastered to his face the entire trip. He was swaying gently on his feet, drunk, and although his eyes glittered, it was not with the spark of life. It was something else- something man-made and cold. “Makes me feel alive, Rogers,” he said, raising his eyebrows and then turning back to the bar to order another drink and add to the growing pile of empty glasses at his side.
Steve wasn’t sure whether he was joking or not.
The three day excursion to Rome passed relatively quickly and uneventfully. Stark had presented all his weapons, accepted an award with his usual grace, swanned around with models on his arms and generally acted crassly the entire time. Steve had simply trailed behind and thought mutinous thoughts.
The third night had been … better, though. Steve wouldn’t have called it good, exactly- he’d been forced into spending time with Stark, so it could never be good. It was just … less shitty, really.
It had involved Steve getting locked out of his room, of course. Typical, really; he was tired, he was grumpy, and he was hungry, but which was the day when his keycard chose to malfunction? That one, of course.
With a frustrated sigh, he’d knocked his head against the frame a few times before turning to head down to reception and complain; except he’d only made it a few steps before Stark stuck his head out of the opposite door.
“I heard groaning and my interests were immediately aroused,” Stark said with the same old leery grin, and Steve barely held back a roll of his eyes. “You having problems with your door?”
“Yeah,” Steve said gruffly, “I’m just going to head down to reception and-”
“No need,” Stark interrupted (again), “I’ll just call them from my phone. Saves you the walk down.”
Steve didn’t even have a chance to answer before Stark had ducked back in again. He frowned, leaning back against the wall to wait until a few seconds later, when Stark stuck his head back around the door.
“You can come in, y’know,” he said, looking a little amused as he pushed the door open a bit further.
Steve stopped the immediate dismissal, just barely. People who got along wouldn’t say no to a simple offer like that, would they? And Steve was supposed to get along with Stark.
“Uh- sure,” he answered, smiling as he stepped forward and ducked under Stark’s outstretched arm.
He shut the door and made his way to the phone on the dressing table, whilst Steve sat on the couch and looked around him. Here, all of Stark’s items and gadgets were laid bare for Steve to see. He tried to figure out if any of it was worth anything to Natasha’s hacking efforts. Whilst Steve was away working in close quarters with him, Natasha was back home, focusing on the virtual aspects of it, attempting to break through Stark’s vigilant firewalls and find something of use. But anything Steve could offer her may be endlessly helpful.
Unfortunately, he knew it was ultimately fruitless. Anything he was going to find whilst acting as Stark’s bodyguard would be hard evidence- the chances of Natasha managing to get through were slim to none.
Essentially, it was up to Steve, and Steve alone.
He looked toward Stark, who was busy talking down the line. There was something about him… Steve knew that there was more than met the eye. And it unnerved him like crazy. Because Steve was good at this, okay, he said it a lot, but it was true. He could read people. Body language. Tells. That sort of thing. It was what he did, and it had saved his life on many an occasion before.
But with Stark...nothing. Steve just could not get a solid read on him. And it bred distrust in Steve’s gut.
Unfortunately, when Stark put the phone down, he explained that hotel services wouldn’t be able to get to his room for quite a while due to the same problem occurring in a few different parts of the hotel. Steve would have to wait at least an hour and a half before someone could come and sort it out.
Which meant, of course, that he had to spend some quality time with Stark.
And at first, it’d been difficult. Very difficult. Trying to talk to a man that could well be a mass-murderer was … hard. Mostly because Steve just wanted to strangle him after every word he said, even if they weren’t offensive.
However, after a while, he'd somehow managed to relax a little- which was a pleasant surprise, in all honesty. Stark was talking, asking him how he’d enjoyed Rome, what he thought of the food, cracking jokes and making snarky comments that had Steve rolling his eyes- but he’d found himself answering back with equally dry remarks and comments. Yeah, it had mostly been simply to humor him, but…
“Would you rather put robot parts in your own body or have your consciousness uploaded into an entirely robot body?” Tony asked from the bed, and Steve looked over to him incredulously, fingers dipping into the bag of nuts and popping a few into his mouth.
“No offense, Mr. Stark, but why the fuck did that question even occur to you?”
“Why wouldn’t it occur to me?”
“We were just talking about the best places you’ve visited. It had literally nothing to do with robot bodies, Mr. Stark.”
Tony waved a hand. “That conversation was boring, I’ve just decided, let’s talk about Robot bodies.”
And so they had. Robot bodies and science projects and everything in-between. A little tentative, wary, but... conversation.
Steve supposed it was a good thing. In order to get close, he had to actually be nice to the guy. It made sense. And it wasn’t like Steve’s thoughts had changed; all it took was a trip back a few hours into the past, watching him act like an asshole in front of all the cameras or gush over the weapons he was probably selling to the other side in order to get Steve’s blood boiling all over again.
But despite everything- despite the bitterness he felt in his mouth and the distrust that was harboured within- when the rooms had finally opened up again an hour or so later and he was able to leave, he’d walked out of Stark’s room in a better mood, and as Stark had smiled goodnight at him, he’d found himself smiling back. Properly.
Which was weird.
But that had been a day ago. Steve was back in the US now, and Stark had told him he’d be holed up in his workshop for the next day or two, so he was free for a while.
Wasting no time, he’d bid Stark farewell and caught the first cab he could find. It was sappy, but it had been four days and Steve had missed his friends. He also had to report back to them about Stark’s initial personality profile.
“Asshole,” he said immediately, and Natasha raised an eyebrow.
“In what sense?” She asked dryly.
Steve shrugged, slumping further down in his chair. “I don’t trust him. That’s what my gut’s telling me. He’s a slippery one- I don’t know what his angle is. All I know is that he sure as hell doesn’t seem like he cares much about… well, anything.”
Clint looked grim, folding his arms and leaning against the table. “It would be so much easier if we didn’t have morals,” he muttered, and Steve nodded sourly in agreement.
Damn them and their good natures. It made assassinating people an absolute nightmare.