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An Empty Bottle and a Gun

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It's a windy day in March when Steve Rogers boards a train in Omaha, Nebraska. Discarded newspapers whip around the platform in a frenzy that imitates the passengers themselves. The station is crowded, with dozens, maybe hundreds of travelers who all want the chance to see the wild lands for themselves. All willing to brave the long, but ultimately comfortable journey on the new Pacific Railway.

That comfort comes at a high cost, the steep ticket price largely prohibitive to anyone who is not truly rich or connected with the railway. Steve belongs to neither group, something he’s keenly aware of standing amidst the more finely dressed passengers, his clothing rumpled with wear.

It's been a long journey for Steve already, beginning in New York and twisting up past Niagra and down through Detroit and Chicago. But here in Omaha, he feels his journey will really begin. He's headed off of the well trodden path, and into the wilds.

Steve holds his own hat tight to his head with one hand and grips his suitcase just as tight with the other as he boards the train. Everything he owns in the world is in his hands, the ticket in his pocket worth more than the rest of it combined. Though he may be the poorest dressed, he feels like the luckiest man on the platform. After all, he has a new life waiting for him on the other side.

An old friend from the war, Marshal Fury, had struck a deal with the residents of a small town called Timely to find them a sheriff. Steve doesn’t know what sort of favor these people must have done for Fury to prompt such an offer, but at the end of the day, Fury had decided Steve was just the man, and Steve had accepted. Steve hasn't had much use for himself since the war, so he's looking forward to the challenge. A new life where he can use all of his old skills.

He doesn't really think much of the stories about the 'Wild West', to tell the truth. He thinks the travelers drawn to the mythos are more likely to cause trouble than the simple folks eking out a living. He expects his charge to be little more than a collection of farms, a few homes for the men of other professions, and maybe a pharmacist if he's lucky. He’s not sure what sort of criminal activity will be needing his attention in that sort of town, but he’s certain he’ll be up to the challenge.

Steve boards the train with his imagined town still clear in his head. But as he's taking his seat, his daydreams are banished by a loud voice coming from farther back in the train.

“All I ask is that you show me how it's secured. Poor fastenings are the death of any sensitive machinery,” the loud voice asserts. It sounds male, with a rich, cultured tone.

“I'm sorry, sir,” replies another man in a much softer voice, his tone placating. Steve presumes him to be a porter. “It is impossible. We simply cannot let you into the luggage car.”

“If my property incurs any damage as a result of your refusal, you will be paying for it.” By the harshness of the loud man’s tone, Steve judges this to be a serious threat. He must be transporting something of serious value.

“Mr. Stark!” comes a third voice, deeper than the others. “Come with me, lets have a drink and talk. I assure you if your– er– machine comes to any harm, you will be properly compensated.” The speech becomes steadily louder and clearer until Steve watches the door to his car open admitting three men. One is tall, mustachioed, and handsome; another is older, bald and quite broad about the midsection; and the third is a broad young man in the uniform of the railroad.

Steve's fellow passengers hasten to ignore the men, some burying their faces in books, others looking out the window as if it held fantastic landscapes instead of the platform they'd only just quited. Steve, however, does not shy away from looking the men over as they pass by.

Steve knows one of them—the tall, handsome one. One of the others had addressed him by name, but Steve would have known him to be Anthony Stark regardless. Steve had seem him only once, during the war, but his appearance was unmistakable. Stark was a brilliant weapons inventor, the very man who had nearly single-handedly brought about the defeat of the rebels when he'd given the Union his rapidly repeating firearm. So far as Steve knows, he hasn't been heard much of since then. Steve supposes that soldiers and weapons inventors are similarly without purpose in times of peace.

The men are silent as they walk through Steve's car, Stark apparently placated for the time being. Privately, Steve wonders what sort of priceless invention their train must be carrying, to have Stark so concerned for it. He doesn't dare ask, and they soon pass into the next car and out of Steve's view. He privately hopes he'll see Stark again, so that he might shake his hand, or perhaps buy him a drink. After all, the man is a hero.

Consumed by these thoughts, Steve hardly notices when the whistle blows one last time, and the train pulls away, taking him from his old life in a puff of steam.

 

Steve wakes up some hours later, neck sore and mouth dry. By that last discomfort he judges that, at least, he had not been drooling. Small comfort for a man with a week of similar sleep ahead of him. He turns his attention out the window, finding swiftly passing trees and a dusky sky. His watch tells him that though night is falling, it's early yet, the winter’s endless nights not yet having given way to the longer days of spring. Steve frowns, upset to have wasted such precious daylight sleeping. He'll have a hell of a time returning to sleep that night, he's sure, and a moving train is hardly the best place for a midnight walk to settle the mind.

He stands, stretching and consequently popping what he thinks must be every individual bone in his back in an alarming cascade of sound. Fortunately none of the other passengers seem much bothered by it, most of them as unconscious as he'd been only moments earlier. To see so many others succumbing to an early sleep is a surprising sight to him. He concludes that trains must simply have that effect on people, decides not to feel bad about his own napping, and sits back down.

Steve is almost dozing yet again when the train comes to a stop. The porters announce dinner, and the groggy passengers shuffle off for feeding time.

The restaurant in the dining station is nice, obviously new, and he's sure the service is wonderful. Steve opts for the bar instead. If he's going to eat a meal alone, he's not going to do it at an opulent table facing three empty chairs. He seats himself a respectful distance from the bar’s only other occupant, and waits for the barman to catch his eye. The bar’s other occupant orders another drink, and at the sound of his voice Steve looks over, surprised to find himself in close proximity to Anthony Stark yet again.

“Excuse me,” Steve says, “You're Anthony Stark, aren't you?”

Stark looks over at him. “Sure,” he says, face expressionless and voice bland.

“Steve Rogers,” Steve says, extending a hand, “I was a captain in the Union Army during the war.”

Tony takes his hand firmly, “Well done then,” he says looking Steve over, “You've still got all your limbs.”

Steve frowns. He isn’t sure what to say to that. He’s sure its some sort of humor, but he can't say he gets the joke. Many of his men had lost limbs in action, his own best friend having lost an arm. Steve clears his throat and attempts to get back on track. “Can I buy you a drink?” He asks, less certain now that it's a good idea than he was when he thought of it only a few hours earlier. It's clear Stark has had a few already.

“Darling, with a face like that, you could even buy me dinner,” Stark laughs, and Steve despairs of understanding even one one word out of Stark's mouth.

He tells the bartender he'll get the next one, and orders the cheapest meal on the menu while he’s at it. While he's waiting, his question from earlier comes to mind. What is the precious thing that Stark is traveling with? It's none of Steve’s business, and it would be incredibly rude to ask, and combined with the now apparently low chances of Steve understanding the answer, there is really no reason to ask at all. Even so, Steve finds himself speaking.

“It's my vision,” Stark replies simply. True to form, Steve doesn't understand the answer, and gives conversation up as hopeless. But Stark doesn't seem bothered by the question, and Steve’s both shaken Stark’s hand and bought him a drink, so as far as Steve is concerned, this encounter has really been a roaring success. Even so, he doesn't press his luck. When his meal arrives, he eats in silence.

After he's finished he looks over at Stark, finding him now sleeping face down on the bar. His face relaxed and gentle, quite young really, and quite deeply under. Trains have that effect on people, Steve recalls. A less generous man may have noted that over consumption of alcohol has a similar effect and, as they are no longer on the train, is the more likely culprit. Steve, however, has decided to be generous.

“Don't worry about him,” the bartender says, apparently attempting to moonlight as a mindreader. “I'll get some of the boys to take care of him.”

“No,” Steve insists, “I can do it.” He feels a little responsible, having paid for one of the drinks that had put Stark under—or onto—the table.

“Suit yourself,” the bartender shrugs, returning to cleaning the glassware.

Steve feels Stark's pockets, looking for his ticket. He finds it in Stark’s breast pocket, along with a flask, which he quickly replaces. He shifts one of Stark's arms around his shoulders and places his own on Stark's hip, getting a grip on the fabric of his trousers. It's not the easiest way to carry an unconscious man, but it is the most dignified for the man being carried. He isn’t sure that's something Stark cares about, but it feels like the right thing to do. It does nothing to prevent the dirty looks he gets as he hauls Stark onto the train, however.

He isn't sure where Stark's seat is so he simply boards further up the train, where he assumes the first class seating to be, and works his way up the train from there.

He navigates as swiftly as he can through the small aisles, barely wide enough for the two of them. People have their eyes on him, on Stark. More people have re-boarded the train than he had anticipated, and, irrationally, he wants to defend Stark from them. Who are they to judge him? Sure, Steve doesn't have the best impression of him—in the hour they'd spent together Stark had said a few strange things and then passed out cold—but he’s still a hero, goddammit. Steve marvels that now is when everyone is awake, now that the sun has well and truly set.

After an interminable distance, they reach the palace cars. The difference in furnishing alone startles Steve. He had considered the Pullman sleeper cars to be too rich for his blood, but the palace cars make them look like flea ridden haylofts. Instead of the double rows of seats in the Pullman sleeper and standard passenger cars, there's one row of seats and, on the other side, a half curtained off bed and a closed room. Steve assumes that to be the ‘State Room’ that the railroad had advertised. He's sure it has nothing on a real stateroom in a real palace, but its far closer to a palace in price than he’s ever come before. The decoration throughout the car is as decadent as it is ubiquitous. Steve thinks he must look like he's just stepped out of a coal mine in comparison, and his suspicions are confirmed when a porter comes to his aid.

“Can I be of any assistance, sir?” The young man asks, doing a fair job of pretending Steve is the same set as the rest of the customers in the car. He looks familiar, and Steve recognizes him as the broad young porter Stark had been talking to when the train had departed.

“This man is Anthony Stark,” he says by way of explanation. “I'm trying to get him back to his seat.”

“Ah, of course,” he looks the unconscious man over with barely concealed amusement. Steve bristles. “That would be this next car.”

“Great. Do you know where he might've been sitting?” He could just dump Stark in an open seat, but if he picked the wrong one, he's sure its proper occupant would not be thanking him later.

“Well sir,” the porter says, trepidation in his voice, “he rented out the whole car.”

“The whole car?” Steve repeats, unable for the moment to believe he's heard that correctly. That must have cost a staggering sum of money. His own through ticket had nearly depleted his savings, and he’s sitting second class, without sleeping accommodations. He refuses to allow himself to count the seats in the palace car. Math, for the time being, must be beyond him, or he might never reach the next car, crushed under the weight of Stark's purse.

“Yes, sir,” the porter confirms and Steve swallows. “I can take him for you.”

“No, that’s all right,” Steve says. The porter does not immediately move out of his way, a sort of nervousness distorting his face. “Look,” Steve huffs, readjusting Stark, his head lolling against Steve's shoulder. “If his pocket book goes missing, I'm easy enough to find. I'm sitting way back there,” he jerks his head back, “Name’s Rogers. Steven. I promise I'm not going to hop off the train at any point, all right?”

The porter nods, standing aside, and Steve finally drags Stark the last few feet into the next car. He heaves Stark onto the bed with a grunt. Either the movement or the noise seems to wake up Stark, who tightens his hold on Steve, curling his other arm around Steve's neck, and nearly pulls Steve down onto the bed on top of him.

“Stark-” Steve starts, trying to get his balance back and disentangle himself. Stark just smiles up at him, eyes dark under heavy lashes.

“Where you going, handsome?” he asks, voice thick and words slurred with drink, before pulling Steve down into a kiss.

It's not as wet or sloppy as Steve would've expected, if he'd been expecting anything of the kind. Stark's lips are soft under his mustache. It’s been a while since Steve’s been kissed. Stark's hands are curling into his hair, soft pleased noises coming from his throat, before Steve puts his brain back together enough to pull away. Stark lets him go this time, his eyes already sliding closed into sleep.

Steve lands heavily on one of the benches, breathing hard. He shouldn’t have let that go on as long as he did. Stark is in no kind of state to be kissing anyone, the fact that he kissed another man shows just compromised Stark really is. Not that Steve has any problem with men kissing other men. It wouldn’t take that sort of persuasion for Steve to kiss another man, or, he swallows, Stark specifically. But most men don't just go around doing that sort of thing. He rubs his forehead, willing himself to forget.

He's tired. He should go back to his seat and go to sleep. He might regret it when he's wide awake at three in the morning, but who knows, maybe tonight will turn out to be a dream. He looks around the palace car. It certainly looks like something out of a dream. He thinks these benches might turn into beds, too. That would be something. He bends over and peers under the bench, but it all looks ordinary to him.

“Whatever are you doing?” Stark’s voice interrupts him, and Steve shoots upright.

“It doesn't matter,” Steve says, coloring, “You should go back to sleep.” He turns for the door.

“Stay, why don't you,” Stark mumbles. “More comfortable here than second class. Unless, of course, your wife and six children will be missing you.”

“No wife,” Steve says, taking a seat again. It had been a near thing, once. There’s no response. Stark is most likely unconscious once again, so Steve stretches out across the bench. Stark is right, it is more comfortable than his seat in second class. He lets himself relax and listens to the sound of Stark's breathing, nearly inaudible over the rattle of the tracks. He thinks, somehow, contrary to all logic, he may have made a friend. “Stark?” he asks.

“Hm,” is the soft reply.

“Do these benches turn into beds?” He doesn't receive an answer. It's probably better that way.