“No no no,” Tony slurs, poking at Steve, “this is going to be awesome.”
“Yeah,” Clint agreed, nodding his head enthusiastically, “awesome.” Steve raised his eyebrow at the group standing (swaying, sitting, whatever) in front of him. Tony and Clint were successfully keeping each other propped up, while a clearly intoxicated Sam looked both thrilled and terrified as he acted as a post for Natasha to lean against. Thor was grinning as wide as he always did, the only sign that he might be less than sober being a slight glaze to his eyes, which Steve suspected had more to do with the Asgardian mead the god had brought with him than the vodka that the rest of the group had been imbibing with abandon. Next to Thor, Jane and Darcy were whispering and giggling to each other, apparently oblivious to the begging Steve was being subjected to. Bruce had (smartly, Steve now thought with hindsight), disappeared several hours ago, and was thus not being faced with the combined force of the majority of the Avengers’ drunken puppy eyes. He glanced at Pepper, hoping for support from the woman who was normally the level-headed balance to Tony’s enthusiastic… Tony-ness, but was disappointed when she simply grinned at him, before hiccuping and looking slightly surprised at herself. He remembered then that she had been attempting to keep pace with Natasha earlier, and gave up on any help from her.
“Fine,” he finally sighed, waving his hand, “lets go.” Clint let out a loud whoop, punching the air with his fists.
“MOM SAID YES!” he bellowed, jumping up and down and slapping at Tony’s shoulder with both hands, who grinned at him.
“TO THE BATMOBILE.” Tony replied, matching Clint’s volume and enthusiasm as he lead the team to the elevator, Steve pulling out his phone and discretely making sure a driver would be waiting for them in the Tower’s garage. He had enough on his hands wrangling drunk superheros without having to worry about being their driver as well.
The drive to the club went relatively smoothly, including the stop at an ATM that Clint insisted upon after Natasha point-blank refused to give in to his request to ‘led a brother a couple grand’. Steve tried to see how much money everyone else was taking out, but wasn’t able to, and didn’t want to deal with the slew of grandpa jokes that would definitely follow if he asked how much was appropriate or necessary so, after staring at his balance for several seconds in a slight panic, Steve ultimately decided to withdraw the maximum amount and just hope for the best. After a couple moments in which they couldn’t find Thor before locating him doing his best to buy every hot dog in a poor vendor’s cart (and several more moments in which the rest of the group insisted that the get a hot dog as well, and Steve grudgingly bought himself ten), they were again on their way.
The club they pulled up to has a reputation for being discreet (as Tony had reassured him several times on the drive over, complete with exaggerated leering winks) so Steve wasn’t as concerned as he might normally be as he watched the bedraggled and heavily intoxicated team of superheros drag themselves from the town car and into the door of the club. He might not trust Tony’s judgement on a lot of stuff but (Lord help him) he believed him when the man told him very seriously that Lace was the best strip club in the city.
Once inside, Steve watched Tony airily ask the woman to put it on his tab, and watched as she nodded, and asked him if he would like the VIP room as usual, sir. He wasn’t sure he would ever get used to how much money Tony had; he barely understood how much money he had himself. In the room, the woman informed them that their entertainment would be arriving shortly, unless there were any special requests?
“VODKA!” yelled Natasha, the others whooping their agreement. The woman shot them a polite professional smile, giving a more genuine smile when she caught Steve’s apologetic look.
“Of course,” she replied, turning and leaving the room. Fitted with plush leather seats and low tables, the centerpiece of the room was a low stage with a single pole. The room was lit by recessed pink and blue neon lighting, and was, Steve thought as he looked around, about as far as you could get from the dingy clubs in Pigalle Place he had visited with the Commandos while in Paris. It was called Pig Alley then by the visiting soldiers, which Steve had always thought was rather rude and judgemental coming from the men who made it such a popular area. He had seen enough of the 21st century to know, though, that the men who visited such establishments still somehow thought they had the right to look down upon the people who worked there, and was suddenly uncomfortable, worried that he might find out some unpleasant truths about his fellow team members tonight. Still, he couldn’t bring himself to leave them in their intoxicated state (even with a voice in his head that sounded suspiciously like Clint’s calling him ‘mom’) and he followed Natasha when she bounded up to him and grabbed his hand, pulling him onto one of the couches right by the stage. Iced bottles of vodka had appeared courtesy of some very unobtrusive waitresses, and Natasha was pouring everyone a glass, immediately pounding her own back while everyone else looked on, sipping their own with considerably less enthusiasm (trying to keep up with Natasha when she was drinking vodka, Clint had told Steve once, was like trying to learn to fly by jumping off a cliff. You couldn’t actually fly and would plummet to a bloody and horrible demise. Steve wasn’t sure how good of a metaphor that was, but the deadened look of past horrors in Clint’s eyes while he relayed it was enough to convince Steve that it was a bad idea).
While everyone tried to pretend they enjoyed straight vodka, and Natasha continued to drink it like water, a song defined by a thudding bass line filled the room, and all eyes turned expectantly to the curtain at the back of the stage. Tony whooped as a woman threw back the curtains and struck an exaggerated pose, hip thrust out, chin tilted up, and a smug smirk on her bright red lips as she looked around the group. Steve couldn’t help but admire the grace of her movements as she stalked across the stage, blond curls bouncing with her swaying gait, and his fingers began to itch for charcoal and a pad of paper as she began spinning around the pole, eyebrows rising as she entered a controlled descent, hanging upside down from her legs. After a couple more songs, she bowed low, hopping down and sitting on the edge of the stage to accept several bills from Tony and Pepper. She sat with her legs swinging, grinning as she chatted with the couple, accepting Tony’s loud effervescent praise and Pepper’s more subdued, but no less sincere, compliments. Standing back up, she began a more subdued dance than her first one.
While the first woman continued her slow spin in the centre of the room, four more women entered the floor of the room, going around to the members of their party and offering lap dances. Steve had just enough time to watch Natasha accept the offer of a woman dressed in a very scary outfit made up largely of leather and straps, handing her a discreetly folded handful of bills as Sam looked on with wide eyes, before his vision was filled by the very toned stomach of a stranger. Blinking and looking up, Steve’s eyes landed upon the smiling face of a tall woman, her skin contrasting starkly with the bright white of her shorts. Just as he opened his mouth to politely decline, Tony was suddenly bouncing onto the couch next to him.
“YES! A lap dance for the Captain! For America!” he crowed, handing the woman a fold of bills while Steve desperately tried, and failed, to get a look at how much Tony was paying her.
“YES!” Clint agreed, suddenly appearing behind Tony, “lets get some patriotic bump and grind going up in this bitch.” He was immediately hit in the head by a black lace bra from Natasha’s direction, and disappeared as quickly as he had appeared with an affronted “hey!”. A glance at Tony’s face convinced Steve that arguing was a pointless exercise, and instead he sat back, smiling uncomfortably up at the woman standing above him.
“Steve.” He offered. She smiled back at him, lip gloss reflecting the lights of the club and shining neon blue.
“Suzy,” she returned with a wink. “Just relax sweetie.” As a new song clicked on, Suzy began to move above Steve with the same fluidity and grace he had so admired in the other dancer, making his fingers again itch for anything to draw with.
“You’re very good.” Steve commented, “do you have to practice a lot?”
“All the time!” She replied cheerfully.
“Mmmmm-hmmmm,” she hummed in response, turning around and dropping down in a fluid movement, before slowly straightening back up to standing,
“It must take a lot of core strength to do that pole dancing. Do you do that as well?”
“Yeah,” Suzy said amicably, “I’m not as good at it as Tracy, she was on stage earlier, but I’ve been practicing and I’m getting better. You have no idea how much my abs hurt after my first try!” She laughed and Steve smiled.
“I can’t imagine. I don’t think I would be able to do that.” She snorted at that, flipping her long black hair over her shoulder as she knelt on the couch, hovering over Steve’s lap.
“Liar.” She teased, tapping Steve on the nose. He raised his hands in supplication.
“I swear! I’ve got a lot of strength in my arms and legs but I don’t really have much call to do anything so controlled.” Suzy looked thoughtfully at him.
“Wanna try?” Steve grinned.
“I’d love to.”
“What the hell just happened?” Tony asked Clint as they stared at the stage, where five strippers were currently clustered around Captain America, laughing and trying to show him how to hang from the pole. Clint shook his head, looking equally stunned.
Steve sat back on the couch in the corner, grinning at the five woman who flopped down around him.
“Do you ever do any modelling?” He asked the group at large, and was met with shaking heads and various negative replies. “Would you be interested in it? I mean,” he continued, raising his hands and looking at each dancer in turn, “no offense ma’am, but you’re all very beautiful and graceful, and I would love to do some drawings of you.” On of the women, Crystal, sat forward with a teasing grin.
“Captain America wants to draw dirty pictures?” She pressed a hand to her chest, “I am shocked and appalled.” Steve felt his face turn red as he began to stutter out a response, stopping when Crystal laughed and waved her hand at him. “I’m just fucking with you Cap. That sounds really cool. I never knew you were an artist.”
“Well…” Steve trailed off, rubbing uncomfortably at the back of his neck.
“I’d love to do it!” Yolanda spoke up, saving Steve from whatever awkward reply he was going to cobble together.
“I’d pay you, of course.” Steve replied, suddenly realizing he hadn’t mentioned that he wasn’t expecting them to pose for him for nothing. “Um,” he continued, pulling out his wallet and dividing what he had withdrew into five, handing them each a bundle of bills, “for your time?” he finished awkwardly. The girls looked at the bills in their hands, eyebrows rising, before looking around at their coworkers. Finally, Trish replied, voice serious.
“Just what do you think is going on here Cap?” Steve’s brows drew together, and he tilted his head.
“I’m paying you? For your time? And I mean, maybe modelling, if you want, of course I don’t want you to do anything you’re uncomfortable with, but I just thought, I mean, the way you dance, its just so fluid and-” Crystal finally stopped his awkward rambling.
“What Trish is asking,” she said, fanning out the bills Steve had handed her in her hands, “is why the fuck you just gave us each two grand. Are you trying to buy us? Or do you… is this some sort of Pretty Woman bullshit?” When Steve still looked confused, she sighed and continued. “This is way too much money. I’ve never-” Steve sat up, finally catching on to what the woman thought was happening.
“Oh! Oh, no, no,” he stuttered out, “I didn’t mean, I don’t think you need rescuing by me or- I just… I don’t really understand how much people should be paid these days.” He admitted with an embarrassed shrug, “with inflation, and everything, I just don’t really…” he trailed off as the women’s faces softened with understanding.
“Oh Cap,” Yolanda reached out and ruffled his hair, “you are just so goddamn adorable.” Steve laughed, before another thought struck him.
“You don’t… I don’t want to be condescending or anything, but… you don’t need… help, do you?” he finished awkwardly, “Like, you’re doing okay…” he trailed off as Crystal began to laugh.
“No, sweetie, we’re all good.”
“I’m paying off all my student loans!” Trish spoke up. The other women began talking about how they had ended up working at Lace, and Steve sat forward.
Steve excused himself from the couch assess the status of the rest of his team when he realised that he had been so caught up in his talk with the women that he had stopped paying attention to his companions. Thor appeared to be telling some sort of battle story in his booming voice (his arms were waving about widely) to a captive audience of Clint, Jane, and several waitresses. Natasha had disappeared, along with the intimidating stripper that she’d been dancing with, and Steve decided not to think about that too much. Sam was curled up with Darcy asleep on another couch, and he couldn’t help but think about how adorable they looked, and how embarrassed they’d both be once they realized they’d passed out at a strip club (he pulled out his phone and snapped a quick, terribly lit photo for proof and future mocking). Tony and Pepper were now sat at a table, chatting with Tracy, looking just as enraptured as they had when she had been on stage.
As he returned to the corner couch, he caught the tail end of a point Crystal had been making.
“-I mean, its more about labor rights than anything, innit? Being contract employees means we’re disposable, we’re replaceable.”
“Not to mention the fucking fees.” Jackie growled in exasperation, “I mean, this job is pretty good, but when I was working at Penthouse? Up on 45th? I had to pay so much in fucking house fees and tip outs that some nights I actually lost money, which was utter bullshit.”
“God yeah.” Trish added, nodding, “I worked there for like a month, it was awful. Was Mr. Richardson the manager when you were there?” Jackie rolled her eyes.
“Yeah, fucking perv.” Trish wrinkled her nose.
“I’ve had a lot of men be dicks to me at clubs, but he really took the cake, Jesus Christ.”
“Do you get harassed a lot by men?” Steve cut in, voice filled with concern, but trying to restrain his natural protective instinct. He didn’t want to patronize these women, but he really didn’t like the thought of them being hurt…
“Nah,” Crystal replied, waving a hand, before pausing and reconsidering, “well, I mean yeah, but that just kind of comes with the territory you know? We’re part of the exploited labour class, there isn’t much we can do about it.”
“The money is a lot better than other jobs, so I put up with it.” Trish added, shrugging, “I mean, I can sometimes make double here what I do when I’m…” she cast a sideways look at Steve, shoulders tensing slightly before finishing, “escorting.” Steve sent her a small smile, and she relaxed.
“You know what drives me crazy,” Yolanda added, pointing at Trish, “is the woman who come to my classes - I teach pole dancing” she clarified for Steve, “to learn how to be all sexy for their husbands or what the fuck ever, and then act all disgusted about the idea of doing it for real.”
“Yes!” Crystal replied, “God, I used to teach, and all these uppity middle class women would come in and learn from me, all the while making snide comments about strippers.”
“Thats awful.” Steve said, and the women all hummed and nodded, before Jackie perked up again.
“And another thing-”
An hour later, and a glance around the room informed Steve that it was past time to remove themselves back to the Tower. Bidding the women a good night, their emails safely saved in his phone, he helped a bleary Sam and Darcy to their feet, while Thor good-naturedly propped up Jane and Clint, with Pepper and Tony taking up the stumbling rear. By the time they made it to the front door, Natasha had mysteriously rejoined their group, and Steve smiled to himself as he helped his friends into the car.
The next day the group found themselves sitting in the kitchen in various states of hating themselves, vodka, and Natasha. Slumped over a large mug of coffee, Tony was the first to make a noise other than a groan or a request for more coffee, hurry up (in fact, Tony looked a lot better than the majority of a group, a fact that he would happily attribute, if asked, to his hedonistic youth).
“Y’know,” he ground out, squinting at Steve where he sat across the table, quietly reading the paper, “I really expected you to be more embarrassed last night than you were. Aren’t you supposed to be a virtuous virgin? Representation of American purity? Champion of chastity?” Steve raised a single eyebrow at him, before Clint piped up from where his head was buried in his arms.
“Yeah man, what gives?” He rolled his head to look at Steve, “Where’s repressed 40s guy when you need him? I had money on you pulling a full body blush! You made me lose fifty bucks!”
“Which you still owe me.” Natasha commented mildly from her perch upon a stool, looking smug and fresh faced as she sipped at her favourite mug (it flashed ‘fuck you’ in large block letters from the bottom of the mug every time she took a drink). Clint waved a hand at her before returning to staring expectantly at Steve. He looked around and saw that everyone else had now joined Tony and Clint in looking at him, and sighed in resignation.
“Its not like its the first time I’ve seen a naked lady,” he pointed out, “I did tour with a whole bunch of showgirls around the states during my propaganda campaign. Besides,” he continued in a tone of voice that all of the Avengers had come to recognize as his ‘I’m pretending I don’t understand the implications of what I’m saying but I actually do and I’m trolling the hell out of you’ voice, “I used to hang out at Miss Claire’s when I couldn’t find work because the girls would model for me between clients and they didn’t mind that I couldn’t afford to pay them.”
“Miss Claire’s?” Tony asked in a tone that made it clear that he didn’t want to ask, and resented that Steve was making him. Steve blinked those big, innocent eyes back at him, barely able to hold back the shit-eating grin that was threatening to ruin his entire act.
“The brothel up the road from me and Buck’s building.” Clint choked on his coffee, coughing as he looked at Steve, eyes wide. “What?” Steve asked, looking around at the group who were all looking at him wide-eyed. “Did that not make it into the history books?” And he finally couldn’t help himself, grinning as he ended up on Natasha’s equally wide smile, winking at her.
“Personally, I’m shocked,” she replied, “I never would have thought that the sainted Steve Rogers would hang out with prostitutes in his spare time.” Steve shook his head, frowning.
“It is shocking, I know. After all, no one before 2010 even knew what sex was.”
“Okay okay,” Tony waved his hand, cutting off Natasha’s reply, “We get it, you’re mister subversion, champaign of the marginalized, friend of strippers and prostitutes.” Steve’s face grew serious.
“You know Tony, the women last night told me a lot of very interesting things about their profession, a lot of things have changed for sex workers since the 40s, but-” Tony rolled his eyes as Clint slumped back down, moaning and rolling his forehead against the countertop, muttering ‘no more’ as he pulled out his hearing aids to block out Steve’s earnest speech. How the man managed to go from little shit to Captain America in one breath was beyond him.
Still, Tony thought to himself, as smugly as he could while taking another pull of his coffee and feeling like death, he now had a video on his phone of Captain America swinging around a stripper pole, and that was well worth the hangover and lecture.