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Out Of the Bottle

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(If you are reading this on any PAY site this is a STOLEN WORK, the author has NOT Given Permission for it to be here. If you're paying to read it, you're being cheated too because you can read it on Archiveofourown for FREE.)

He's had enough of being an experiment, a project, a thing, expected to obey, to think only enough to handle the mission, but never to question that the people 'higher up' know what's best. When the one-eyed guy in the leather coat talks to him, all Steve can hear are lies. Ok, looking at Times Square he can see that a lot of time has passed, so that much is true, but what else? All he knows is that he woke up in a fake room, surrounded by lies. Maybe these people are working for the government. Maybe they're working against it. Hell, maybe they're working for it, but the government has turned into something he wouldn't want to support. He's not going to be anyone's patsy.

"I'm just gonna go now." Steve shakes his head and starts walking. If they want to shoot him in the back, well, fine, that'll prove he's right to leave. The skin in between his shoulders is tight at first anticipating a bullet, then he hears scuffling behind him. The guy in the leather coat is talking, snapping out orders. Well, yeah, sounds like a guy who knows what he's doing, but that doesn't mean he's on the same side as Steve. He listens as he works his way through crowds, it's strange how much different the streets are when you're not small enough to hide in the crowd, when people instinctively give way for you. He doesn't think he'll ever get used to that.

He listens and realizes one man is following him, his stride and the sound of his shoes distinctive enough to memorize. That's fine. Whether they're friends or enemies, he'd like to keep a contact link, so he doesn't try to lose his tail. He needs to get off the street for a while, sit and think what to do next. He'll need a job, a place to stay... he doesn't even know what else he'll need, what changes there are. He doesn't see any flying cars, so Howard was wrong about that... but maybe some of all the other nutty inventions he talked about are real... and there have been social changes. Definitely there have been social changes, just going by what he's seen in the last few minutes. Clothing and hair styles are a lot more varied, and mostly a lot more casual. Even the men in business suits aren't wearing hats. And then there was the guy in the leather coat-- someone like him would never have been in charge before... oh, he's picking up too many pieces of a puzzle too big to work on all at once. He really needs some place quiet to think, some place a man can sit and not be bothered by all this... everything.

And then he sees more men walking toward him with quiet purpose, indefinably different from the crowd. If they were going to grab him, they'd have done it already, but he's in no mood to have any more confrontations in public. Someone innocent might get hurt.

He looks around and catches sight of something old-fashioned and homely; a bar with a hand-lettered sign above a varnished brown wooden double door. There are glass windows to either side of the door, not particularly clean, but not filthy, either. He can see a few people sitting inside. The light is a soft, friendly yellow. He pushes in and walks over to the bartender who is playing with something like a typewriter keyboard, if typewriters were flat and the keys set out in curves, and had symbols on them that didn't look like any language he'd ever seen. So, not really much like a keyboard. "Excuse me," Steve says.

"Sure thing, buddy. What's your poison?" The bartender looks up and smiles, and Steve has a nagging sense of not quite familiarity. The man is good-looking in a way that seems more deliberate than Steve's used to. His hair is... well, something's been done to make it stay in a fluffy sort of tousle like that, and the fancy trim of his beard probably requires more tweezing than a dame's eyebrows. In contrast, he's wearing a black undershirt with a faded design like an advertisement for something he's never heard of, over another black shirt, a long-sleeved knit that reminds Steve of long-johns. It's a strange combination of prissiness and sloppiness.

"Oh." Steve pats at his trousers. He's got no wallet, no money. "Sorry. I'm flat busted." He turns away. New York is full of public libraries, he'll have to try one of them.

"Hey, look it's dead right now. We could use some advertisement. How about you take a beer and a bowl of pretzels on the house and sit near the window?"

Steve frowns. "Well, that's very kind of you, but I'm not panhandling, Mister."

The bartender blinks. "You're not from around here, are you?"

"Well, yeah, I was born in Brooklyn... haven't been around in a while, though. I've been...traveling in Europe."

"Oh, continental savoir-faire, that'll add tone to the place." The bartender draws a draft beer in a thick glass stein and pushes the mug over to Steve. "Really, just sit and look pretty."

Steve raises his eyebrows. Is this flirting serious, or is just the way people talk these days? The bartender raises his hands, palms out. "Hey, can't blame a guy for testing the waters. Peace offering..." He reaches under the bar, and Steve tenses, relaxing when the man brings out a paper-lined basket of something greasy that smells awfully good. "You like your Buffalo wings spicy?"

"Uh, sure. Thanks." Steve doesn't like accepting charity, but he is hungry, and he's not stupid enough to let pride make him weak. He offers his hand to the bartender. "I'm Steve. Steve Rogers."

The man surprises Steve with a firmer grip than the poncy hair and babbling would lead him to expect. "Tony Stark."

Steve nods and takes the beer and basket over to a seat by the window. It's not as if he didn't want to keep an eye on his followers, anyway. They act a lot like F.B.I. when they want to be seen. Maybe they're trying to panic Steve into doing something stupid. That's not going to happen. He might do something stupid to get a reaction, but not before he has a better lay of the land. He smiles at the passersby, and does his best to show his appreciation of the beer, which is actually a damn good beer, possibly the best he's ever had. Maybe some things about the future are an improvement. Or maybe the bartender really is flirting with him, and hopes to get into his pants. Steve doesn't give much weight to that thought one way or the other. During the war he'd had plenty of offers from both guys and dames, and hey, he's no saint, so sometimes he said yes. It never meant anything, not like Peggy. He meant to do things right with her, dancing and dinner, and... no point thinking about Peggy now. This is like being on a mission, keep focused.

The first tail is now standing on the sidewalk outside, looking in at Steve, looking at him the same way the scientists had done. So curious. What will the dancing monkey do? Will he be amusing? He's suddenly so damn angry and frustrated that he just wants to punch something, or someone. Distantly Steve hears glass shatter, and feels cold liquid run over his hand, cuts stinging in sharp bursts. He doesn't take his eyes off the man watching.

"Steve! Hey! What happened, how the hell did you even do that!" The bartender is at Steve's side, trying to get him to open his fist. "That's... unbreakable..." Something in Tony's voice catches Steve's attention. He looks away from the window and sees Tony has gone pale under his tan and is glaring at... yeah, certainly looks like he's looking at F.B.I. guy.

"What..." Steve asks, but Tony isn't listening.

Tony tosses a clean towel in Steve's direction and storms outside the bar, holding the door open with his body. He stands there, legs braced and whole attitude stiff with hostility. "What do you want? Or should I be asking, what does Fury want? Not that he's going to get it, but I love the sound of your voice, Coulson."

"Director Fury has no current interest in you, Stark. General Fury does, however, have a vested interest in Captain America," maybe F.B.I. guy, Coulson, says.

Steve lets the last of the glass shards fall from his hand and gets up, moving to stand next to Tony. He assumes Fury is the guy in the eye-patch. "You know, I'm pretty sure my term of enlistment ran out a long time ago."

Coulson says calmly, "Retrieving and reviving you diverted a great many resources."

"Yeah, thanks," Steve says. He doesn't owe Fury. He's not even sure whether he'd rather be dead than living in this world, with no connection to it. "We weren't buying and selling people any more in my time, so I guess that puts me one up on you."

"Why don't you have Fury send me the bill, Coulson?" Tony turns to Steve. "You can work it out in trade," he says with definitely salacious overtones, but underneath that Steve can see how very much Tony wants to get Fury's goat, and Steve is all for that.

"Yeah, I can do that." Steve puts his non-bloody arm around Tony's waist and pulls him closer. Tony is stiff against him for a moment, and then relaxes, playing up by leaning against him.

Coulson shrugs. "I'll pass the message on, gentlemen." He leaves, vanishing into the crowd within seconds.

Tony turns to look at Steve, moving back slightly to meet his eyes. "I wasn't kidding about paying Fury, but that's really nothing to do with you. I just like pissing him off."

"Nothing to do with me?"

Tony shrugs. "Well, maybe a little... I didn't place the name at first. My father told me a lot about you. He'd haunt me if I let anyone take advantage of Captain America."

Steve frowns. "Your father?"

"Howard Stark." Tony moves away from Steve, going back into the bar. "He died a long time ago, but I still remember how much he admired you."

Now that he knows, Steve can see the resemblance. And Howard had never been one to care much for orders, either. "About paying Fury, though..." he says as he follows Tony back into the cool semi-privacy. The few other occupants of the bar are more interested in their drinks than in real-life drama, but then, this is New York City, there's always some kind of drama on the street.

"Don't worry about it. He probably wouldn't have the nerve to bill me, but if he did, I'm good for it. Come over to the light, I want to look at that hand." Tony rummages out a first aid kit from under the bar. "So, I'm not sure I really believe it, but hey, I've seen stranger things than a legend come back to life seventy years later, still new penny shiny." He hums under his breath as he grabs Steve's hand and inspects it for glass before disinfecting and bandaging it.

"Have you now?"

"Oh, yes." Tony looks up at him, eyes dark and serious. "And if you're a trick of Fury's it won't do you any good. No one gets the Iron Man."

"I'm gonna feel awful stupid if I have to keep repeating everything you say." Steve flexes his hand once the bandage is in place, checking that he can still make a fist. It seems not unlikely he'll be doing that before the cuts heal, even as quickly as he does. "I don't know what you're talking about. Should I? I mean, is this Iron Man public knowledge?"

"Mmm..." Tony packs up the first aid kit. He glances at Steve. "Sort of. A few people might have heard about him."

"I never thought I'd hear you bein' modest, Stark."

Steve turns at the new, yet familiar, voice to face a man coming from the rear of the barroom, carrying a case of whiskey with negligent ease under one arm. "Logan!" He's astonished to not only recognize him, but to see that he's exactly as Steve remembers him, right down to the cheap cigar clenched between his teeth. There'd been rumors about Wolverine's ability to heal from any injury, and he'd seen the man in action, but still..."You haven't changed."

Logan grunts. "Nah. I like bein' me. Most days."

"You two know each other?" Tony is looking suspicious, and Steve can't entirely blame him. Coincidences usually are set-ups, in Steve's experience and there's at least one too many between the three of them.

"We met in Madripoor, during the war," Steve says.

Logan looks at Steve and then shrugs. "I don't remember you, Bub." He holds up a hand to stop Tony's obviously impending outburst. "I don't remember a lot of things. You might be telling the truth. Maybe."

"Do you remember the war?"

"Which one?" Logan gets behind the bar and opens a bottled beer. "You girls wanna chat, take it to the back room." He looks at the glass and blood on the table near the window. "If you wanna fight, take it into the alley, I ain't no maid to clean up after you."

"Hire one." Tony picks up a bottle and tosses a glass to Steve, who reflexively catches it. Tony grabs another glass and heads for the back. "Come on, Steve."

"Richboy pain in the ass!" Logan shouts after them, but he doesn't sound any more irritated than the usual grumbling simmer Steve remembers.

The back room is a narrow aisle between crates of supplies, well lit and with no place for anyone to hide in ambush. Steve wouldn't say he relaxes, but he isn't any more tense when Tony turns to face Steve. "So, either this is the biggest coincidence in history, or Fury is even more of a manipulative scheming bastard than I thought." He opens the bottle and pours a healthy three fingers into his glass, lifting the bottle and his eyebrows in inquiry at Steve afterward.

Steve holds out the glass for filling. "I don't really believe in coincidence," Steve says after a sip of Scotch, again the best he's ever tasted. "But what purpose would it serve?" Steve acknowledges that he'd been herded here, but he can't fathom why.

"Fury wanted to start up his own little superhero club, polish up a nice shiny band of toy soldiers to march around to his orders. I had..." Tony takes a couple swallows of Scotch. "reasons to almost be persuaded... then I found out that he'd been holding onto my father's personal effects for nearly thirty years, including his notebooks, and a message... that would have meant a hell of a lot to me if I'd seen it sooner." Tony stops talking for a moment, apparently getting his temper under control with the aid of the rest of the Scotch. He refills his glass. "He finally dumped it all on my lap along with some Fury brand sarcasm, only when ... well, basically, I would have died without the information. So, yay, I'm alive. And I'll never let him get control over my life again."

"All right, I get that you don't trust Fury. Heck, I don't trust him. What about Logan?"

"I don't think Logan trusted his own mother... if he could remember her."

"No, I mean, how did you meet him? The two of you don't seem likely to run in the same circles."

Tony laughs. "This is New York City, weird shit central. Someone dressed like a giant alligator led a bunch of flaming reptiles through midtown- right in the middle of rush hour, which made it even more of a joy. Logan was having a drink in one of the bars they burned up. Apparently, they torched him along with his last cigar. That... really burned him up." Tony grins at his own pun and has more Scotch. "We divided the lizards between us, and then went looking for an unburnt bar for a celebratory drink. The owner thought we weren't high-class enough for his establishment, so I bought the building. I decided to stay to run the bar until we run out of Scotch. Logan decided to stay until he gets bored. That's about it."

Steve frowns and drinks his Scotch. "Well, that doesn't sound like Fury could have arranged it."

"Yeah, no, not that. But he did later send a couple of shiny young idealists into the bar trying to recruit Logan. He told them to fuck off, naturally, and so there Fury had two superheroes sitting on his front lawn in beach chairs, thumbing their noses at him. Doesn't help with recruitment. Your glass is empty."

"I like it that way."

Tony taps the bottle against Steve's glass. "I insist."


"Seems the simplest test of your identity. Dad said Cap could drink a regiment under the table."

Steve raises his eyebrows. "Fine. But why waste the good stuff on me?"

Tony looks offended. "If you are Cap, I'm not going to serve you anything less than the best. If you're not, then Logan and I will strip your unconscious body naked, paint witty remarks on you, and dump you on Fury's doorstep along with the liquor bill."

"Do you take anything seriously?" Steve takes the bottle and puts it to his mouth, chugging it down non-stop. It doesn't taste so good that way, but he's tired of playing games.

"Some things." Tony opens another bottle and pours himself another drink.

"I thought you were testing me," Steve says, picking up his glass and holding it out for a refill.

Tony nods. "Yeah, but I get bored."

Well, if Tony is a superhero, Iron Man, whatever, he probably doesn't get drunk either. Although Tony doesn't look like Iron, you can't go by appearances. Probably it's a hidden power, like Logan's claws and healing ability. Iron bones? Iron stomach? He certainly can slug the booze down without blinking.

It isn't too long before Steve changes his mind. Tony becomes pie-eyed, staggering drunk while Steve remains perfectly sober, of course. Tony is so drunk he's having difficulty peeling the seal from a bottle. "You know," Steve says while taking the bottle from Tony's hand, "I think you've proved my point. What kind of a superhero are you, anyway?" Steve is wondering how much of the story Tony told him is the truth. Maybe everyone he's spoken to since he woke has been lying to him. He's not normally a paranoid sort of feller, but he didn't just fall off the turnip truck, either.

Tony smiles and grabs at the bottle. Steve holds onto it. "You've had enough."

"It's mine." Tony pulls at the bottle, loses his balance and winds up tangled in Steve's arms. "Hey! Not on...on the firs' date!" And then he looks up at Steve, all wide-eyed and giggly and it's just too much.

"Cut the joking around," Steve says gruffly, trying to get Tony back on his own feet. His hands slip as Tony wriggles uncooperatively, and the shirts push up. Trying to keep Tony from winding up on the floor, Steve grips harder and the shirts ride up further. A blue-white light shines out, startling him. "What?" Tony starts struggling in earnest now, but he's too drunk to do a good job of it and Steve gets a good look at a metal rimmed glass disc seemingly set in Tony's chest. "What are you?"

"A self-made man," Tony replies, trying to yank the shirts back down. "My father would have been proud of me. Yeah. Not so much, really."

Steve pushes Tony back to sit on a crate. "Is that what makes you Iron Man? What does it do?"

"Yeah. Well, that's part of it." Tony waves his hand vaguely around. "I think I need to visit the little superheroes room." Tony pushes to his feet and wanders back into the bar, leaving Steve standing there, wondering what is going on. There's a door at the far end, presumably leading to an alley. New York can't have changed so much that he can't lose himself beyond Fury's finding... but what good would that do? He needs answers, and whatever else Tony Stark is, he's definitely a talker.

Steve goes back into the bar and takes it in at a glance. There are a few more customers- none of them look like Fury's men. The table where Steve sat has been cleaned up. Logan is pouring drinks. And there's an unobtrusive door swinging shut. Steve assumes its purpose from the placard bearing a stylized stick figure of a man. He goes in. Urinals at least are recognizable, and after drinking several bottles, he can use one. From the sounds coming from a closed stall, Tony won't be talking for a while, so he might as well relieve his bladder while he waits. He finishes, and tidies himself away before washing his hands. He leans on the tiled wall for a few minutes until there's a lull in the unpleasant noises. "Tony?" A toilet flushes. The stall door opens and Tony looks out at him.

"Oh. Yeah. Be with you in a minute, Cap." Tony goes to the sink and washes his hands, then rinses his mouth out. "So. Yeah. That was... yeah." He frowns at Steve. "You're still sober as a...whatever... I've known some drunk judges, so not that."

"Do you want me to touch my nose, or walk a line?" Steve smiles. He isn't amused by Tony, but he's curious, and hostility seldom gets you honest answers.

"No, no, that's fine. For the purposes of this discussion..." Tony shakes his head. "Yeah, all right, you're Captain America. Fury's playing with us. The way I see it, you can flip him off and drop off the map, you can trust his judgment and sign up, or you can hang out with me until you make up your mind."

"Hang out with you? As what, your kept man?"

Tony blinks. "Oh, sorry. I wasn't offering to be your sugar daddy... wasn't not offering either, because... hey, Captain America... I would so not kick you out for eating crackers in bed. But no. I don't know if I mentioned it, but I could be the best sugar daddy in the world. But that's not what I meant."

"Tony." Steve's patience is worn down to a razor's edge. "What. Do. You. Mean?"

Tony runs his hands through his hair. "Go along with Fury by pretending that Logan and you and I are forming up our own boyband to keep him from trying some new trick. Live in my tower-- and no, that's not a dirty euphemism. Logan's got his own floor, I think the walls are lined with Canadian beer and Cuban cigars, not that he ever invites me to visit... and you could have your own floor, on the same terms. Stay as long as you like, and I'll do my best to get you up to speed on the twenty-first century."

"And what do you get out of it?"

"I don't know. That's the thing. I'm a... well, research scientist, among other things... and it's by investigating what I don't know that I come up with new things."

"You're not going to investigate me." Steve has no intention of being x-rayed, measured, poked and prodded, none of that, ever again.

"What? Oh, I'm too drunk for this. No, I do not want to analyze your tissues and bodily fluids, although... no, no, inappropriate, yes, trying to conduct business here. No, it's just... you're you. You're different. You'll make me think different."

"I think you're crazy."

"Eh, when you're as rich as I am, it's called being eccentric. Come on. Where's that famous split-second decision making I heard so much about?"

"Yeah, well. This is different." Steve sighs. "All right. I'll stay with you for now."

"Great! That calls for a celebration." Tony bounces, actually bounces on his feet. "Champagne! You like champagne, don't you?" He heads back into the bar, Steve just catching the swinging door before it smacks him in the face. "Logan!" Tony sidles onto a barstool. "Champagne!"

Steve follows and frowns. "Tony."

"Have to seal the deal. Logan, we're going to be the Three Musketeers! Only without muskets."

"Yeah, muskets were a pain in the ass." Logan pours champagne into three glasses, taking his cigar out of his mouth long enough to gulp down a glass. "Make me a good gun, Stark, and I'm not wearin' no feather hat."

Tony nods agreeably, empties his glass and holds it out for more. "Done deal."

Steve is joining forces with a sociopath and a drunken lecher. Why? He thinks back to the mocked up room he woke in, so clean and serene. Drunken debauchery is honest in comparison. "Yeah, I'm in." The champagne is excellent. Of course it is.