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Of All the Gin Joints in All the Towns in All the World

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It’s a mild September night in 2005 when Tony Stark walks into a bar.

This isn’t exactly unusual and, in many ways, shouldn’t be anything to take particular note of. Sure, he’s got a meeting in the morning. He’s got meetings all week. That’s why he’s in New York in the first place.

That being said, he’s Tony Stark. If he wants to have a drink or two or ten then that’s what he’ll do.

With this mindset, the same one that’s carried him from MIT to present day, he finds the closest half-decent bar in the area. It’s a moderately sized place on the edge of Queens. There’s a bright neon sign proclaiming its name, which he doesn’t care to read, and a decent crowd for a weekday.

With a door handle that doesn’t look like he’ll catch a dozen diseases just from touching it, instead maybe only five or so, and a wall full of alcohol bottles, it’s enough for him. Nobody will be looking for Tony Stark in a slightly rundown place like this.

He takes a seat at a bar stool, the ones on either side of him blessedly empty, and takes off his sunglasses at the dim lighting in the place. The bartender, a young thing from what he can tell, gestures that he’ll be with him in a moment.

Contrary to what many people might believe, Tony can be patient. He takes the time to look around the place. It doesn’t take long before he finds his eyes drawn to something behind the bar.

It’s a book. It’s a book that he himself is familiar with. There’s only one employee behind the bar. There’s only one person it can belong to.

“What can I get you?”

Tony turns as he hears the bartender’s voice. He stares for a second, taking in the messy brown curls and big Bambi eyes. For once, however, it’s not just a pretty face that’s managed to catch his attention. At least, not completely.

“Humanity's deepest desire for knowledge is justification enough for our continuing quest,” Tony tells him without really thinking about it.

The bartender, Peter by his name tag, cocks one eyebrow with an amused quirk to his pink lips. He tilts his head a little and Tony’s eyes catch the quick flash of a silver hoop in his nose. “Sorry. I can only offer a drink.” He studies him for a second. “You look like a scotch kinda guy.”

“Sounds good,” Tony agrees.

He watches the young bartender pour his drink. He slides it to him with a tattooed arm, the other bare as he returns the bottle of scotch to its place. Tony doesn’t know a thing about Peter (not yet, a little voice in the back if mind seems to whisper) but he has a feeling it’s only a matter of time before that arm joins its partner.

Peter moves wordlessly farther down the bar, tending to a couple of customers that have just shown up. Tony takes a sip of his scotch, not bad but definitely nothing compared to some of the bottles he’s got stashed in Malibu, and finds his eyes trailing back to that book.

It’s sitting on the back counter behind the bar, under the bottles of alcohol and with what looks like a sticky note marking the reader’s place. What kind of bartender reads Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time in between serving drinks?

Apparently, the same kind that either doesn’t recognize Tony Stark when he sees him or just doesn’t care.

Almost unwittingly, Tony finds himself intrigued.

As Peter makes his way back to his end of the bar top, he asks just that.

“What kind of bartender reads Stephen Hawking?”

He doesn’t even hesitate. “One that likes science,” he says as he starts wiping out a few beer mugs, “and isn’t half bad with math either.”

Tony takes another sip of his scotch. “That for a class?” he asks. After all, he’s apparently old enough to serve alcohol but he doesn’t look old enough to drink it.

“Nope,” Peter says simply as he tosses his rag over one shoulder and turns to the tap to fill the mugs.

Tony watches as he carries them over to a group of guys at the far end of the bar. They’re already about halfway to drunk and he’s pretty sure he hears one of them proclaim Peter the ‘beer angel’ as he sets their drinks down.

“Not in school, then?” Tony asks when he gets close again, nodding when he grabs the bottle of scotch and holds it up in question.

“We’re not all billionaires,” Peter says as he refills his glass. “Besides, it doesn’t take a couple of doctorates to learn something,” he adds, crossing his arms on the bar top and leaning on them as he does.

Positive that he does actually recognize him and interested in anyone who wants to learn purely for the sake of learning, Tony manages to start an intense discussion about physics and, gradually, other areas of science as well.

Tony leaves just before 2:00 AM when last call goes up. He barely realizes that he never had more than three drinks for the entire night, too focused on an absolutely brilliant mind hidden behind a pretty face and simple job.

 

It’s a fairly busy night when Tony comes in again. Peter’s busy pouring a tray of shots for what looks like a group of sorority girls when he sees him.

He takes the same bar stool as last time, sliding off his aviators to hang on his collar and sending a smirk in his direction. Peter shakes his head a little as he finishes the last couple of drinks.

He’d been surprised by Tony Stark when he met him. Peter may not be one for tabloids and rumors but it’s impossible not to hear at last some of the things they have to say about the owner of Stark Industries.

Egotistical. Arrogant. Sarcastic. Playboy. These are just a few of their favorites to fall back on.

So, yeah, it’s a bit of a surprise for Peter to talk to the man and see that either the media is completely wrong and only looking to stir up drama which, okay, isn’t such a shocking notion, or that Tony Stark has another side to him entirely and, for some reason, he decided a bartender was someone worth showing it to.

Well, at least some of it seems completely wrong. He glances back at thick, dark hair and a carefully groomed beard. Playboy, at least, seems like a title easy enough for the man to earn.

Peter shakes his head again as he hands the tray to one of the sorority girls. She’s an admittedly pretty blonde who does her best to flash her cleavage in his direction. He doesn’t know if she’s hoping for a discount or a date. Either way, he just gives her a polite smile and moves on down the bar.

He checks to make sure no other customers need his attention before coming to a stop in front of the billionaire.

“Scotch?” he asks.

Tony flashes him that media perfected grin. “You know me so well already,” he says. “And yet, I don’t know nearly enough about you.”

Peter smirks as he pulls out a glass and pours the drink. “Whose fault is that?”

“A gross oversight on my part,” Tony agrees with an overly somber look. He holds out one hand as Peter slides his glass in front of him. “Tony Stark,” he greets.

“Peter Parker.” He does his best to ignore the weird shock he feels when they shake hands. Tony flinches back a little like he felt it too and Peter just chalks it up to static electricity.

Tony takes a slow sip of his drink. “So, tell me about yourself, sweetheart,” he says as he sets it back down. “What’s a scientist doing working in a bar like this?”

“Don’t call me sweetheart,” Peter tells him. “And I’m not a scientist.”

Tony smirks at his protest to the name. “What are you then?”

Peter starts to walk off as he sees a couple of guys making their way to the bar. “I’m an artist,” he calls over his shoulder.

There’s small rush that keeps them from continuing their conversation for about a half hour. Tony nurses his glass slowly, seemingly timing things so Peter can take the time to top him off just as the rush slows.

“Artist can mean a lot of things,” Tony points out, continuing their conversation like it was never interrupted.

“It can,” Peter agrees, closing the bottle and returning it to its place.

Tony studies him for a long second and, as his eyes dip down to the ink on his forearm, smiles with all the satisfaction of someone who just solved the equation they’d been working on for days. “You’re a tattoo artist,” he says decisively.

Peter can’t help but smile back. “Give the man a prize,” he tells him. “I am. Well, I’m an apprentice. That’s why I’m working here.”

Tony hums thoughtfully as he sips his drink. “You are young then,” he notes, gesturing with the glass.

Peter cocks one eyebrow with a smirk. “I’m old enough to serve alcohol, aren’t I?” he asks rhetorically.

“Just making sure you’re legal,” Tony drawls with a teasing leer that doesn’t seem all that genuine. Peter gets the feeling the infamous playboy is probably more interested in a possible friend, someone who wants nothing from him, than anything else.

“Don’t worry,” Peter says lightly. “That’s not anything you need to concern yourself with.” He gives him a pointed look that makes it clear he’s not interested in anything of the sort. Sure enough, it gets him a softer and more genuine smile in return.

What follows is a long conversation about the merits of an artistic mind in scientific fields. Tony, surprising Peter once again, seems extremely impressed by his chosen medium.

“Don’t get me wrong,” he says, “I can handle schematics and blueprints. I mean, I’ve got to be some kind of creative to do my work.” He gestures towards Peter’s tattooed forearm. “I can’t do anything close to that, though.”

“Maybe you could,” Peter tells him. “Just put that genius mind of yours to it. You might be surprised what you can do if you just try.”

Tony looks at him thoughtfully for a long moment like he thinks he might be talking about more than just drawing and art. Maybe he is. Even Peter’s not completely sure.

The moment’s broken as Tony scoffs softly and finishes off the last of his scotch. “Yeah, sure. Whatever you say, Bob Ross.”

Peter grins at him. “I’ll take that as a compliment. The Joy of Painting was my childhood.”

Tony smiles back, clearly amused. “Can’t really say I’m surprised,” he says lightly before checking the very expensive looking watch on his wrist. He sees that it’s basically last call and tosses a few bills, far too much for the three drinks he had, down before he leaves. “Keep the change,” he calls over his shoulder. “Call it a tip for the company.”

Peter divides up the cash and can’t help but shake his head. What kind of person leaves a hundred-dollar tip for three relatively cheap glasses of scotch?

The answer comes to him later as he’s leaving to go change into his suit and patrol: a billionaire who maybe just needs a friend and a normal conversation.

 

When Tony takes a seat at the bar the next night, the first thing he notices is the dark bruise on Peter’s face. It spreads across his cheekbone and up towards his temple, not quite a blackeye but close enough.

“What happened to you?” Tony asks. He sounds as careless as Tony Stark always does when it comes to other people but, somehow, finds himself legitimately concerned. Not that he shows it, of course.

Peter brings one hand up to the bruise. “Oh, just a drunk customer who didn’t like being cut off,” he says casually with a shrug. “It happens.”

“Things get a bit violent?” Tony asks, wondering all the while why he cares so much.

“Like I said, it happens,” Peter tells him. “Not that I really care for it but what can you do?”

“Not a fan of violence,” Tony says. It’s not a question. For all that he can see the lean muscle on Peter’s arms every time he reaches for a bottle or pours a drink, he can also tell that he’s the type to never raise a hand if he can help it.

He tries not to think about what that might mean he thinks of Tony and his business. Tony Stark has never cared what other people think of him and there’s no reason to start now, not even for what seems like the first person who’s treated him like just Tony, rather than the Tony Stark, in years.

Peter pours his drink without even asking this time. “Not so much,” he agrees, and Tony can tell his thoughts are going in the same direction. “Big fan of other things though,” he adds.

“Yeah?” Tony asks blankly as he takes a sip. “Like what?”

Peter shrugs. “I’ve got an aunt who had heart surgery ‘bout a year ago,” he tells him. “I’d call myself a real big fan of the pacemaker she had put in.” He says it casually, wiping the bar top down as he does, like he doesn’t realize what he’s actually saying.

For the first time in a long time Tony finds himself speechless. He forgets sometimes that Stark Industries does make more than just weapons, like the pacemaker they’d put out just a few years before.

“Yeah,” Tony says softly. “I guess that’s not so bad.”

Peter smiles at him before moving on to deal with some other customers and Tony, for some reason, finds himself watching him as he works. More than once, their eyes meet.

 

The next few nights follow a similar pattern. Tony finishes his meetings and immediately heads for the bar. Peter pours him a glass of scotch without having to ask. Tony spends the night on the same bar stool, talking with Peter in the lulls between customers.

They don’t talk about anything too important or deep. It’s just a nice, simple conversation for the both of them. Tony enjoys talking to someone who both treats him normally and can keep up with him and his mind. Peter enjoys talking to someone who never gives him weird looks for his jewelry or painted nails or the ink on his arm.

They argue every night at last call when Tony leaves. Peter tries to tell him to stop leaving such ridiculous tips while Tony reminds him that he’s a billionaire. Peter’s not impressed with this particular argument which just leads to Tony claiming that he does what he wants.

Still, Peter does manage to talk him down from the triple digit tips.

On the last night he’s in the city, Tony drinks a little more than his usual. He orders an extra glass of scotch and stays at the bar until the absolute last call. He pulls his discarded jacket back on and stands there for a moment like he wants to say something but doesn’t quite know how.

Peter saves him the trouble. “Have a nice flight back to California,” he says with a smile, picking up his glass without another word.

“I will,” Tony tells him. “It’s a private jet.” He pulls out his wallet and tosses a couple of bills down on the bar top. “See you around, sweetheart,” he calls over his shoulder.

“Don’t call me sweetheart,” Peter calls after him. Tony pulls on his sunglasses, sends him that media perfected grin, and walks out the door.

Not a minute later, Peter curses quietly to himself as he divides up the bills and counts a two-hundred-dollar tip.

 

Tony lasts all of two nights back in Malibu before he gives in to the temptation. He’s in his lab, elbow deep in a car engine, when he glances over at the liquor cabinet in the corner and gets a flash of Bambi eyes and messy curls.

“JARVIS?” Tony calls. “Run a search on Peter Parker.”

“Am I looking for anything in particular, sir?” the AI asks.

It would be easy for Tony to find everything there is on the pretty bartender. It wouldn’t take long at all and science knows he’s not exactly known for respecting boundaries.

Still, he gets the feeling he’ll have a lot more fun learning about Peter Parker personally.

“Just his phone number,” he says with a small smile. “Nothing else.”