“Do not say anything,” Matt admonished him firmly. “At all, Tony. I mean it. You do not need to antagonize these people. Let me talk to them, okay.”
“How am I still sitting here?” Tony demanded, looking around the small, windowless interrogation room at the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. “They don’t have any proof of anything.”
“They have you supposedly attempting to bribe a Senator and not exactly denying that you were trying to sell your tech to the highest bidder on the black market. This is serious, Tony,” Matt told him in a hushed tone. “And whatever you may think of Stern, his word is not nothing, Tony.”
“They don’t even want me! Or, they do, but they want the damn tech more. Which they can’t have, by the way. I told Senator Asswipe that,” Tony bit out in frustration, one hand slamming down on the metal-topped table in front of him.
“Stern wants the tech, true, but don’t think the Las Vegas PD or some hot-to-trot local FBI wouldn’t love to be the one to serve up Tony Stark’s head on a platter. You’ve got to be smart about this,” Matt urged. “Not your usual kind of smart, the one that goes off half-cocked and tries to catch a shark with a cane pole. Stern played you, Tony. They’ll try to get a warrant for whatever is on that drive that Batroc says he was trying to buy, at the very least.”
“Well, stop them! Look, not to overdramatize, but this is a matter of life and death, Matt. If the government gets its hands on the tech, they’ll weaponize it, you know they will. And that’s the good scenario. You know what I told you about Stane, Pierce and the rest of them,” Tony reminded him.
“Theories, Tony. Compelling, I’ll grant you, but you have no proof of anything. You can’t go around accusing people like Alexander Pierce of…of treason without something to go on other than conjecture and your certainty that you know more about everything than anyone else,” Matt replied, which had the annoying ring of truth to it, Tony knew. Damn. This had all gone to such utter shit.
“Look, Tony, right now, it’s your word against Batroc’s about what was supposedly on the table, and the guy’s got tons of priors. They know he’s dirty, has all kind of shady dealings and connections to even worse, but they’ve never been able to actually directly link him to a terrorist group. Not that they haven’t tried,” Matt admitted. “It’ll be hard to get a judge to sign off on a warrant for corporate secrets based on the testimony of someone like that, though they’ll certainly try. Stern wasn’t wired, so it’s just him saying you offered him anything, though God knows who around here is in his pocket. Between the two, though, I have to tell you, it’s probably enough for some judge to sign off on it. I’m sure the D.A. is waking one up right about now.”
“We can’t let them get their hands on what’s on that drive, Matt. We can’t. This was a set-up, pure and simple, and yeah, I walked into it, but you’ve got to, I don’t know, do your legal voodoo and get me out of this,” Tony pleaded.
A sharp knock sounded at the door, drawing both men’s attention. Pepper Potts stuck her head in and quickly stepped inside, her face ashen.
“What is it?” Tony demanded immediately.
“There’s a witness,” Pepper said. “From the penthouse. Someone was up there and supposedly overheard the whole thing with Stern.”
“What?” Tony barked back in surprise. “No. No way. There wasn’t anyone else up there. Stern was alone. I insisted on that much.”
“Well, I don’t know, Tony! I’m telling you, I heard them talking when I went outside to make a call. They just brought him in. I tried to see in the other interview room, but I couldn’t get a look,” Pepper said worriedly. “Tony—“
“No. This is crap, Matt. There wasn’t anyone else up there. I swear it. This is one of Stern’s cronies lying for him, the bastard!” Tony shouted, standing up and pushing away from the table. “No way. No way he gets away with this.”
Tony made for the door, side-stepping Pepper’s outstretched hand and ignoring Matt’s pleas to stay and let him handle it. He stalked down the short hallway, past a couple of uniformed officers who looked at him with idle curiosity, like they couldn’t quite place who he was immediately, not here, without the usual trappings of celebrity and wealth that floated around him most of the time. It took them long enough to catch up on who he was and that he was no longer where he was supposed to be that Tony had pushed open the door to the other interrogation room before they reacted.
“Sir! Hey, you can’t go in there!” Short Cop shouted, reaching for his shoulder.
Tony ground to a halt in surprise, staring at the man sitting opposite him across the twin of the table that had just been in front of him in the other room. Two investigators in ill-fitting suits too hot for the Vegas weather turned in their chairs and looked back at him. “Get him out of here! Dammit, Walsh, can’t you keep one eye on the door and the other one worrying about what Connie’s doing with Spinelli?” Bad Tan Suit called out to whoever it was over Tony’s shoulder. “Mr. Stark, I’ll have to insist you wait in the interrogation room with your lawyer while we discuss matters with the witness.”
Tony’s mouth opened and closed while his brain tried to process what he was seeing. It was the guy. The guy. From night before last, when Tony had let Rhodey take him out and get him drunk. Or possibly the other way around. At any rate, they’d ended up at some strip club just off the main drag, Rhodey insisting he was bored while drinking Tony under the table, and Tony throwing money at whoever happened to walk past. Honestly, strippers were only really interesting because they made Rhodey uncomfortable. Otherwise, it was all just sort of sad and the secondhand embarrassment was usually not worth what little thrill they offered. He thought he might have nodded off, until Rhodey’s elbow in his rib cage got his attention and pointed to the stage.
He’d gotten one look at the stage and immediately taken back every not-so-glowing thing he’d ever thought about strippers. Strippers were wonderful. Strippers were the best thing God ever put on this green earth. And this one? Tall, blond and incredibly muscled, though not the scary-huge kind that made you concerned they were just going to explode if you poked them. All-American good-looks right down to his red, white and blue striped thong. God Bless America. Tony had never felt more patriotic in his life. He’d even sent a wad of bills back with the waitress in the hopes of some private time, but all he’d gotten was an apology, a seemingly sincere ‘His loss,’ and a refund from the sympathetic waitress. He hadn’t been sure if she’d been gazing longingly at him or the roll of cash. Actually, he was pretty sure which one it was, and that didn’t do much for his disappointment. The night hadn’t exactly ended how his mind had briefly envisioned, though he’d put those thoughts to good use later.
And now Yankee Doodle himself was sitting across from him in the interrogation room, looking stunned and rather abashed, eyes darting all over the place like he was checking for possible escape routes. What the hell? Why in the world would this guy be in his---oh. Rhodey. Dammit, Rhodey. Okay, fine, good taste and taking the initiative and all that. Ordinarily, this would be a giant basket of mini-muffins coming his dear Rhodster’s way, but right now, this was so not good. If this guy had been in the penthouse, and fuck, he’d given Rhodey the spare room key that night…if this guy had been there and heard what Tony had said to Stern…combined with whatever Batroc was crowing about, that was at least enough for a warrant to get the hard drive.
He was trying not to panic, but could feel his heart stuttering in his chest. A year of planning, and it was all going to come tumbling down because he hadn’t been able to shut up about how hot the guy was and Rhodey had, for once, listened to him, the idiot. There had to be some way to keep the guy from talking. Matt had to know some legal crap that would keep the guy from talking---wait.
“You can’t talk to him,” Tony said suddenly, pointing across the table.
“And just why the hell not, Mr. Stark?” Ugly Navy Suit demanded.
“Because we’re married. He’s my husband. Last night. Vegas tradition, right?” Tony blurted out. “So, that’s a thing. A privilege thing. He can’t talk to you. Because of the being married to me thing.”
The Ugly Suit Twins burst out laughing. Not an auspicious start.
“It’s true,” Tony insisted. “I’m telling you, and in a minute, my lawyer’s going to be telling you, you can’t talk to him.”
The investigators swiveled in their chairs to stare at the man. “Is this true?” What Not to Wear One asked in disbelief.
The man looked up at Tony, who carefully held his hand in front of his chest and rubbed his thumb over his forefinger in what he hoped was the universal symbol for ‘Play Along And I Will Pay You Cash Money.’
“Yes,” the man said slowly. “Yes, that’s true. I married Tony Stark.”
“Uh-huh,” What Not to Wear Two said. “Where exactly did these nuptials take place?”
“I can’t quite remember,” the man said smoothly. “We were both pretty tipsy. It had the word chapel in the name, if that narrows it down any.”
“You’ve just described any of over a hundred possibilities in the downtown area alone,” the investigator snapped in annoyance.
“So, that didn’t narrow it down any, then,” the man said evenly, raising one eyebrow slightly while Tony struggled to bite back a laugh.
“What’s going on in here?” a woman with a nametag identifying her as Connie asked as she came into the room. “We can hear you all shouting out in the bullpen.”
“Stark says he married this guy last night. Claiming spousal privilege if you can believe that,” Ugly Tan Suit announced. The woman, Connie, looked between the man and Tony.
“I believe it,” she said.
“Thank you,” Tony and the man said in unison. Tony looked at the man with a frustrated grimace, but he just shrugged, ducking his head to hide a smile, and wasn’t that just adorable? No—intrigue, world at war, Nazis. Focus, for fuck’s sake. "I admit it was somewhat impulsive. Believe me, my lawyers have been screaming pre-nup at me all morning, but, hey, you can't fight love, right?" Tony said with what he hoped was a sheepish shrug. By the looks he got from the investigators, he didn't think he pulled that off particularly well.
“And what’s your new husband’s name, Mr. Stark?” the other investigator asked, turning around again in his chair to look at Tony.
It was always the little things, Tony thought, as he looked desperately at the man across from him, but one of the investigators was eyeing him, so there really wasn’t much the man could do. The answer, Tony assumed, was probably not Hot Thong Guy. More’s the pity.
“Steve!” Pepper shouted, nearly bumping into Tony as she practically flung herself into the room. “Oh, I mean Mr. Rogers. Or can I call you Steve now? I don’t know, this is all so sudden,” she ground out through clenched teeth, throwing a pointed look at Tony.
“What’s she doing here? Get her out! Is this freaking visitor hour or something?” someone was shouting.
“Sorry, am I intruding, gentlemen? I thought the interview was over,” Pepper replied calmly.
“I believe it is, Ms. Potts,” Matt said evenly from outside the crowded doorway. “Since Mr. Rogers--or, are you going by Mr. Stark, now?" Matt asked with a placid humming noise. "I suppose that can be sorted later. At any rate, he cannot give testimony about his husband regarding events that happened during the course of their marriage, I think we’re done here for now. If you’d like to set up another time to speak with my client, you have my office’s number.”
The man, Steve, Tony corrected, got up and walked slowly around the table to stand in front of Tony. Tony reached out and grabbed onto his hand, because wasn’t that what newlyweds did? Kept touching each other, all cloying and obnoxiously happy about life? He had no idea how he was going to pull that off.
Steve smiled down at him, soft at first, then wider and before Tony could do more than open his mouth to say God only knew what—hopefully words, but that was honestly up in the air at the moment because he couldn’t think of any—Steve brought his hand around to cup the back of Tony’s neck, tilting his head just so and bent down to press a long, lingering kiss to Tony’s lips, close enough that Tony could feel the promise of warm, wet heat. Steve pulled back, his tongue darting out to taste his lips, as if he wanted just that bit more, and fuck if that didn’t go right to Tony’s cock. He felt himself smiling stupidly up at the man, still clinging to his hand like a kindergartener on his first school trip.
“Honey,” Steve breathed out, eyes bright with amusement and a spark of something that might be challenge. “I missed you so much.”
Maybe this whole pretending to be happy thing wasn’t going to be so hard after all, Tony thought dazedly.
“I’ve been thinking about you all day,” Tony told him, and that much at least was true enough. “So sorry about this whole crazy misunderstanding. Dear.”
“Alright, you two, that’s enough. Mr. Murdock, see that your client provides us with a copy of his marriage license, would you?” Thing One requested smugly. “I’m sure you have such a precious document commemorating your wedded bliss on hand. Isn’t that right, Mr. Stark?” Tony saw Steve’s eyes go wide in panic and lock on Tony’s immediately. Whoever he was, Tony thought, he was someone used to playing a role, but not outright lying, that much was clear, Tony thought bemusedly.
“Of course,” Tony said, smiling and sliding his sunglasses out of his pocket. He had no such thing, of course, but if he could miniaturize an arc reactor, he was pretty sure that hacking the county clerk’s office was probably not going to present nearly the issue that dealing with Pepper’s wrath was likely to produce. “You’ll have it on your desk by morning,” Tony promised. “Signed, sealed and delivered.”
His merry band followed him out into the hall, Pepper’s frown enough to quell the stares of the mere mortals they passed on their way out of the police station. And now, the true trial by fire, Tony thought as they approached the tinted glass doors that led outside. “So, look, Steve,” Tony began, stopping long enough to turn to the man at his side. “There are going to be about a hundred or so press out there. Most just want to snap a good photo, but to get that, they’re going to shout all sorts of things. Ignore them. They don’t know about you yet, and they don’t need to right now, so just follow along behind Matt and get into the limo, okay?”
“Uh, okay. Sure. I can do that,” Steve said, a note of trepidation in his voice for the first time.
“It’s going to be fine,” Tony assured him, reaching out and squeezing Steve’s hand, then dropping it like it burned. What the hell was he doing? There was no need to play it up right now. Just get out of here, into the limo and back to the hotel.
“You’re letting him go?” a shrill voice shouted from behind them. Tony spun around in time to see Stern barreling down the hallway, an angry hand pointed in Tony’s direction. “You can’t let him go! Where’s Judge Abernathy with the warrant? Go pull him out of the Cheetah Club and get him to sign it,” Stern demanded.
“At this time, we don’t feel we have enough to get a warrant that would require Mr. Stark to turn over proprietary technology,” Navy-Suited investigator explained, though he didn’t sound happy about it.
“I thought you had a witness!” Stern barked.
“Turned out to be Mr. Stark’s new husband,” Tan Suit told him, leaving Stern’s mouth to open and shut a few times as he tried to digest the news. “Can’t talk to him.”
“Congratulate me, Senator. I’m a married man,” Tony grinned waspishly.
“You—you—that can’t—no—that’s not possible,” Stern spluttered uselessly, looking from Tony to Steve, as if noticing the other man for the first time.
“Hey, don’t I know you?” Stern asked, eyes narrowing.
“Why? Does my face look familiar?” Steve deadpanned. Tony couldn’t stop the sharp, half-aghast laugh that burst out of him at that. Cute and interesting, Tony thought with a smile, then caught Pepper’s eye and realized he was smiling like a lunatic at Steve and promptly coughed into his hand to cover another laugh.
“Oh, come on!” Stern pleaded to the heavens, tossing his hands in the air. “That guy isn’t Stark’s husband. For crying out loud, Stark just picked him up at the---at some establishment. He’s just some fuck boy Stark rented for the ni—ow!!! Ewasshl!“ Stern shouted, one hand flying to his nose as he tipped his head back to stop the flow of blood.
That hurt, Tony thought, shaking his hand to clear the worst of the stinging pain from his knuckles. Surprisingly satisfying, though. “That’s my husband you’re talking about, Senator,” Tony bit out.
“Idewseedat?” Stern mewled. “Eehitme! Myhrt! Cntbreef! Arrestem!” Stern shouted, pointing in agitation at Tony, who just rolled his eyes and stuffed his hands in his pockets.
“He started it,” Tony said hurriedly.
“I’ll say,” Navy Suit agreed.
“Oh, for the love,” Pepper muttered under her breath, rolling her eyes. “Tony, stop. Senator, you can press charges if you want, we’re right here, but are you sure you want it all over the papers that you insulted Mr. Stark’s new husband, Senator? And just how exactly you have knowledge of Mr. Rogers’ perfectly legal occupation?”
Stern blinked at her, and one of his hangers-on leaned over to whisper something in the Senator’s ear. “Mimishtake,” Stern said after a moment.
“See that it doesn’t happen again,” Tony replied, then grabbed Steve’s hand and pulled him out the door, forgetting for the moment that he’d told Steve to follow along behind Matt so as not to draw any more attention to him that necessary. So, when Tony Stark finally exited the Las Vegas Police Headquarters, he ended up going out arm in arm with who would soon be called an “unidentified man,” the biggest red flag to a snorting bull of a paparazzi there was.
By the time they made the limo, Tony had realized his mistake, but it was too late. Steve was red-faced, eyes wide, looking for the world like Bambi after someone made his mother their dinner. The things the photogs shouted at Tony to try to get a rise out of him for just the right terrible picture were old news, but probably no amount of warning could really have prepared Steve.
“What—why—those things they said—“ Steve stuttered, turning and pointing at the crowd of news people outside the limo.
“Don’t worry about it. Pep will handle the press,” Tony promised.
“I—this is going to be all over the news, isn’t it?” Steve said dully, as if the realization was just now occurring to him. Maybe it was. One thing to think he could get out of police questioning and maybe make a little money by agreeing to Tony’s crazy charade without really thinking it through. Another to suddenly see that his face was going to plastered on the internet as one of Tony’s conquests, if nothing else. And there was probably going to be something else. When the press got wind of the idea that Tony was married, they were going to make Steve’s life miserable, and from the look of it, Steve was beginning to catch on to that fact. “What are they going to say?”
“Nothing. Right now, at least. But, truthfully, it won’t take long. Someone inside the police or Stern’s office is going to leak it,” Tony told him resignedly. “They’re going to be horrible. They’ll find out about your work. Anything you’ve done in your life that remotely looks bad. They’ll take it and turn it into something sordid because you’re connected with me now. They'll try to destroy you. I’m sorry,” Tony said truthfully as Steve’s face paled. “Look, I know this is all probably seeming insane to you about now, and you’re thinking about bolting the first chance you get. And if you want to walk back in there and tell the police the truth, you can. I’m not going to stop you. But I do owe you a reason for asking you to help me.”
“Tony—“ Matt started.
“No, this was me throwing a Hail Mary, Matt. And Steve here caught it without really knowing what it was going to mean,” Tony said, suddenly weary of the whole thing. This was not how this was supposed to go. Nothing about this was right. He’d screwed up with Stern and now this poor sod was caught up in it all, his only fault being insanely hot. That was probably not a sin worth having your life ruined.
“Steve, here’s the deal,” Tony began. “If you tell them what you heard between me and Stern, they’re probably going to use that to get their hands on my technology. As soon as it’s out of my hands, Stern can get to it. One way or the other, he’ll have it. And if he does, it’s going to be bad for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that Stern’s dirty. I think you might know that,” Tony prodded.
Steve was watching him intently. He said nothing, but finally tilted his head just slightly, but enough for Tony to take it for agreement. “Okay, say I believe you,” Steve replied cautiously.
“What’s in it for you, right? Why risk it?” Tony asked. “I just need a few days. A few days, and this contact of mine, Batroc, he’s going to take the sample tech I gave him not to a terrorist cell, like the Feds are currently freaking out about, but to Obediah Stane, the CEO of Stark Industries, who is then going to give it to Alexander Pierce. You’ve heard of him, right? Okay,” Tony continued at Steve’s slow nod. “Pierce not going to turn this over to the authorities. In fact, he’s going to use it to try to make weapons for a group called Hydra. Heard of them? No? Well, very bad people, suffice it to say. Like Nazi bad. Look, there’s a lot more to it, but I’m telling you this so you’ll understand that this isn’t some game for me. This is real. This matters. I can’t let them get their hands on this tech, not this way. It’s too out in the open. The Feds would be all over it and the whole thing would go South and Pierce would skitter back into his hidey-hole. I can’t just destroy it now, because they know about it and if I blow this hard drive to kingdom come, they’ll be all over my files in a heartbeat.”
“You know how this sounds, right?” Steve asked, looking between Tony, Pepper and Matt, like one of them was going to suddenly yell ‘Gotcha!’
“I do. I promise, I’m not crazy and, unfortunately, I’m not lying or wrong about this. Steve, I’m asking you to do this for me for a few days, a week tops. In return, I’ll make it more than worth it for you. You know who I am. I think you know that I can keep that promise. But, not if I end up in jail on some bogus attempted bribery charge,” Tony finished quietly, letting that sink in.
“I heard you with Stern,” Steve reminded him.
“Yeah, that probably sounded bad,” Tony admitted.
“What were you doing with him?” Steve asked carefully, almost like he didn’t really want to know the answer.
“Trying to bribe him,” Tony said quickly, leaning back in the seat.
“Toooonnnyyy,” Pepper groaned, bringing her palm up to massage her forehead.
“For a good cause. He’s in it with Stane, for sure. I needed to see if it was about the money or something else. Now, I know. He’s Hydra, too,” Tony explained. “Steve, look, I think you’re smart enough to know that I’ve told you enough here that you can hurt me with it. I’m taking a gamble that you’re actually the kind of guy who cares about doing the right thing. Granted, I’m basing that on the fact that you sent my one grand back to me instead of just keeping it, but still. I like to think lap dance integrity still means something in this country.”
“Matt, you can’t just let him keep talking like this,” Pepper said, kicking at Tony’s lawyer with her heel.
“I’m sorry, I’ve gone temporarily deaf, what was that?” Murdock asked placidly. “Hey, I went instantly blind. It can happen,” Matt said at Pepper’s silence.
“You should’ve just gone to James with this in the first place. I don’t know what the hell you thought you were doing, Tony. This is insane. Someone is going to find out about this. We don’t—and I’m sorry here, Steve—but, we don’t even know anything about him, and now I’m supposed to spin that you’re married to him?” Pepper hissed. “You?”
“Well, it isn’t as if no one will believe I got drunk and married a stripper, Pep,” Tony replied cheekily.
“Tony, so help me God, I’m going to—“ Pepper began.
“Fine,” Steve interrupted, cutting off what probably would’ve been a truly epic tirade. Tony could only imagine what was going through the poor guy’s head, but if it got him to agree, all’s well that ends well. “I’ll do it. But what about the license? They’re going to want to see that.”
“Oh, yeah, don’t worry about that,” Tony said, digging out his tablet. “Jarvis? I’m going to need a Clark County Nevada marriage license dated sometime yesterday, if you’d be so kind.”
“Of course, Sir,” Jarvis responded, startling Steve.
“Is that your butler?” Steve asked, peering down at the tablet curiously. “Who forges documents for you?”
“Something like that,” Tony acknowledged as his phone started to buzz insistently. He picked it up and looked at the screen. Right on cue, he thought.
“Why, hello, old chum, old pal,” Tony answered.
“What the hell, Tony?” Rhodey demanded brusquely. Tony winced and drew the phone away from his ear. “You’ve got cops and Feds all over the hotel. I’m watching you perp walk out of the police station on repeat on CNN. They’re saying you tried to bribe Stern? Fox News has you selling weapons on the black market, and God that picture they’re using is the one from Bali in ’09. You look like shit. They wheeled Stern out and put him in an ambulance, by the way. Got some paparazzi swearing you decked the guy. Now they’ve got ‘copters following it like he’s OJ.”
“Yeah, don’t worry, Sourpatch, I’ve got it covered. Uh, though, I should probably tell you that, purely in the interests of national security and the greater good, I kind of had to fake marry that stripper-gram you sent. Thanks for that, by the way,” Tony added quickly.