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An Empty Bottle and a Gun

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

The second time Steve wakes on the train, it's to the sound of loud voices and shuffling feet. Morning has come, and he has to squint against the light when he tries to comprehend his surroundings. The clanking and jostling below him brings them to mind soon enough. Stark's car, the train. He'd spent the night on a bench that may have also been bed.

Stark is stirring in the bed opposite him. His face is screwed up in displeasure, and Steve is sure things feel lot brighter and a lot louder for him. The noises are none too quiet for Steve either, and he thinks they might be getting louder. Satisfying his intrigue, he opens the front door to the car and peers out. He has to step aside swiftly to avoid the tide of passengers pouring in from the car ahead, intent on rushing through Stark's car towards the back of the train.

The sound of a gunshot ricochets through the air and the loud voices escalate into outright screaming. Steve takes a low stance behind the door, watching through the door's window. He feels for his sidearm, but can't find it. He curses under his breath- he must have left it in his baggage. It may as well be back in New York for all the good it'll do him there.

Stark lets out a low groan behind Steve, reminding him of his existence. Steve follows the flow of the still-rushing crowd back to him and, kneeling, shakes his shoulder.

“Wake up, Stark,” he whispers.

“Unfortunately, I'm already there,” Stark rasps, and levers himself upright with a little help from Steve. Eyes still pressed tightly shut against the suns glare, he looks deeply displeased in a manner only a good hangover could account for. “Did we join with a circus train?”

“No,” Steve smiles at the joke despite himself. “I don't know what exactly it is, but I do know it's bad news.” The pop of another gunshot punctuates his words. Stark's eyes fly open, piercingly blue, and startlingly alert.

“I know that sound,” Stark breathes as Steve tries to pull him to his feet.

“Yes, Stark. Gunfire. Like I said: really bad news.” Steve peers out the door yet again. The last gunshot had been closer and sure enough, the flow of passengers is diminishing. At the back of the crowd Steve can see four men, their pistols glinting in the sunlight. Two of the men are rifling through the bags that passengers have behind on their seats, stuffing saddle bags with their findings.

“Get to the back of the train,” Steve orders, pushing Stark into the crowd. “I'll try and stop them.” He clenches his fists and wishes he had his sidearm, but he'll just have to do without. He's been in worse situations unarmed. He thinks he must have been, anyway, although none come to mind at present.

The gunmen are still a car away, steadily heading in his direction. Steve thinks they're moving at a pretty leisurely pace for men in flagrant violation of some of Steve's favorite laws. At this distance their shouting is starting to become intelligible, although Steve quickly finds that they aren't saying anything of much value.

Cries of “move!” and “I'll shoot you!” dominate the discourse.

Eyes locked on the gunmen through the glass, Steve slowly inches toward the door separating the cars. He plasters himself against the wall and waits. Soon, the last passenger runs by and only the gunmen's voices are still ahead. He watches the open doorway, and gets into position. The man in the lead makes the mistake of entering the car gun-first and Steve makes his move, slamming the door shut on the man's wrist as hard as he can manage. The gun thumps onto the floor and Steve dives to pick it up just as a volley of gunfire erupts, perforating the air where he'd just been standing.

He rolls, grabbing the gun and pulling back the hammer in one smooth motion. The second he comes to rest, he fires off a round into the chest of the leading gunman, who falls to the floor, hand still gripping his shattered wrist.

The other two men are through the door in seconds. Steve manages to land a shot on one of the men's shoulder, causing him to fall into the man behind him, toppling them both to the floor. Before the uninjured man can regain his feet, Steve is on him and whipping him with the butt of his borrowed pistol. The injured man is fumbling with his pistol when Steve turns to him. It's easy enough to knock it out of his trembling hands. Steve grabs him by the collar and pushes him against the wall of the train.

“Looks like it's just you and me now,” he says. The terrified man's eyes dart in both directions. “So I think you'd best tell me a—“ Steve is cut off abruptly by something solid colliding with his skull. Four men, is his last clear thought before things get distant.

He drifts for a time. He has the impression of hearing voices but can't make out any words, and then it's just the scattered noise of his own brain. After what feels like an age, his brain starts piecing itself back together and he blinks his eyes open. It isn't clear how long he was out for, but all but the dead man are gone from the car. Steve curses, probing at the back of his head. There's blood, but he doesn't think it's too bad. He's got a pretty hard head, or so he's been told.

Slowly, and with a good deal of assistance from the wall, he gets to his feet. If the men insist on fleeing, he has no choice but to give chase.

 

Steve stumbles down the aisles, chasing a trail of raided handbags and the occasional bloody handprint. Soon he can hear voices again; the gunmen shouting directions. The last four cars on the train must be packed now, Steve thinks, and it looks like bandits don't intend to let the opportunity pass by. He peers through the window into the car to find one of the men making his way through the crush as the crowd fearfully anoints him with their own coins and jewels.

There’s no chance of a fight in that mass without passengers getting injured, so Steve just has to follow him to wherever he's planning to leave the train. Hoping the mass of the crowd will protect him from view, Steve slips into the car. About halfway through he loses sight of the bandit. Steve makes a desperate push for freedom, bursting from the crowd in the seating area to find the boarding door to the car wide open. He steps back to make a jump of it, but just as he moves, something pulls him back.

He turns quickly, knocking Stark's hand from his arm. It's plain on Stark's face that he plans to thwart any further attempts by Steve to quit the train. His eyes are clear, intense. “Why did you do that?” Steve demands. “Who knows how much they've just gotten away with!”

“Come with me,” Stark says quietly, almost too quietly for Steve to hear over the din of frightened passengers. He takes Steve's arm and leads him as far away from the crowd as they can get in this small space, right up against the door out of the car. Steve leans in close, curious. With what he's seen of the man thus far, he thinks there’s only a fifty-fifty chance of Stark having a real reason, but if there is one he'd like to hear it.

“They didn't leave the train,” Stark says. Well, Steve decides, he'd played the odds. And lost.

“I just saw them jump off,” Steve says, in a tone which he considers admirably calm.

“No,” Stark says, shaking his head, loose curls falling into his eyes. “You saw an open door and no other way out. But that's what they wanted you to see. They've only gone as far as the baggage car.”

“What makes you think that?” Steve asks, willing to believe it, despite himself.

“I went back there, during the chaos. To check on...” Stark pauses for a moment of clear deliberation, “something,” he decides. “I watched the men re-board the very back of the train.”

Steve turns it over in his mind. It makes enough sense. Why jump from a moving train in the middle of nowhere when you can sneak from a stopped one somewhere civilized where the goods you've stolen might be of some real use to you? Furthermore, there's the real chance that the items of highest value are being kept in that very baggage car. There may be a way to verify Stark's story, too. Steve raises his eyebrows at Stark and opens the door, gesturing for Stark to lead. They push silently through the last packed cars until they reach the final set of doors standing between them and the luggage car.

If the clatter of the tracks had been a soothing rhythm inside the train, Steve finds it nothing short of a deafening rattle in the open air between the cars. He hadn't noticed it much, on his initial chase, but without his goal in sight, it's hard to notice much besides. The wind rushing past his face is icy as they rumble around the mountain pass. He grips the railing hard against the cruel blustering and the train's own shuddering movement, and takes a moment to be glad that Stark had kept him from leaping.

The cold of the metal bites into his hands, a reminder to get a move on if he's ever felt one. Steve shuffles his hand forward along the rail as far as he can, and makes the small leap to the door ahead. Releasing the railings, he feels for the handle. It's firmly locked and bolted, confirming that no one has entered through that door. Unlike the doors to the passenger cars, it has no window, but sure enough, when he presses his ear to the door he can hear men’s voices. He can't say if the voices belong to their bandits, but he has no reason to suspect any other origin.

Steve debates trying to shoulder his way through the door. He'd be working against the doors swing, and the heavy locks look more than sturdy enough to withstand him. Furthermore, he's still unarmed. Rushing in has served him well enough so far, discounting his encounter with unconsciousness, but it looks as though he may have to think this one through after all.

He retreats, finding Stark waiting for him in the doorway.

“Come on,” Stark says, putting an arm around his shoulders and flashing Steve a friendly, if rakish, grin.

Chapter Text

Back in Stark's personal car, Steve sits, staring at his own grumpy reflection in a teacup filled with bourbon. It was the only refreshment Stark could offer him, and Steve isn't even sure where he pulled that from—his personal car seems to be entirely bare of Stark's belongings. To Steve's surprise, however, Stark hasn't taken any of the drink for himself. The man is decidedly sober, both in body and temperament.

When they'd gotten back to the car, both men had taken a moment to clean themselves up. Steve, it turned out, had some amount of blood to wash from his hair. Stark had taken the time to change his clothes and shave, and Steve has to admit; he had cleaned up very well. Sitting across from Steve now, he looks a true gentleman. Hair neatly arranged, stubble shaved away, sleep rumpled clothing replaced, Steve almost wouldn't know him for the man he'd met the night before. He cuts a fine figure like this. Very fine. Steve swallows, the memory of Stark's kiss tingling on his lips. He wonders if Stark remembers.

He looks down, taking a sip of his drink.

“Thank you,” Steve says, “for stopping me.”

“No trouble,” Stark smiles, regarding Steve. There’s something almost intimidating in it—the lighting quick intelligence behind those piercing eyes, not dulled by spirits. Steve wonders about the mind behind those eyes, what they see, what it's thinking. “But,” Stark continues, “I might recommend not being so quick to jump to conclusions when it involves jumping from trains. Should it ever come up again.”

Steve doesn’t know what to say to that. His courage and quick reactions have been his making, after all. “I hope it wont,” he says, and Stark flashes him another smile.

“Well,” Steve says by way of redirecting the topic, “I wanted to say that I appreciated your help, and that I plan to pursue these criminals and see they're brought to justice. So it might be better for your safety if you confined yourself to this car and avoided the back of the train in future, at least until they’re apprehended.”

“No,” Stark says, with an air of consideration. “I don't think that I will. I plan to pursue them as well.”

“Why?” Steve asks. “You're a civilian. It's not your business to handle this type of matter.”

“They were using my guns,” he replies, voice hard. “This matter is a good deal more my business than yours.”

“How can you know that?” Steve asks, incredulous.

“I recognized the sound when they fired.”

Steve can't believe that. Of course different sorts, different calibers, of guns sound different when fired, but to be able to determine the manufacturer? By sound alone? It stretches credibility. No, he won't believe it. Was the gun he'd captured from one of the men a Stark weapon? He doesn't know, he can’t remember the encounter as well as he would like. “Even if that’s true,” he says, with admirable generosity, “that doesn't make it your responsibility.”

“What's your stake in this?” Stark asks, catching Steve off-guard.

“Well, I'm a law man,” he says. “Or, well, I will be. I'm just trying to do the right thing.”

“So am I.” Starks expression brooks no argument, even for a man as inclined to argue his own way as Steve. If Stark wants to throw himself in the path of bandits, so be it.

Steve nods, “All right. For the time being we've just got to keep an eye on that last car when the train stops. There were four men and I killed one, injured another, and knocked one in the head pretty hard, so that's all right odds for us.” Steve doesn’t mention how hard his own head had been knocked about in the process. “I think there's a chance one of the porters is in on it, so I'd like to see if we can't handle this ourselves.” The men had to have gained access to the locked luggage car somehow, after all.

Stark pulls out his pocket watch and flips it open. “We've got another ten minutes before the next stop to tank up on water. I'd say our watch starts now.” He snaps it shut, jaw set and eyes shining.

 

Standing at the back door, the chill seeping in, Steve and Stark watch the luggage car in silence as the train stops and, eventually, starts up again.

“I guess this wasn't their stop,” Stark says, pulling the flask from his jacket pocket. He offers it to Steve, who declines, before taking a sip. “I wouldn't want to make my escape here either,” he takes another quick pull, before returning it to his pocket. Privately, Steve agrees with Stark. They're still running through the mountains, and the side track they'd stopped at hardly counts as civilization. It isn't snowy, but it is brisk, and Steve can feel the altitude and dryness.

“We'll just have to watch a little longer,” Steve says with a frown. He leans heavily on the wall, settling in to wait.

Stark pulls his watch out to check the time again. “Another half of an hour or so and we'll stop again, and then I think the one after that will be breakfast.”

Selfishly Steve hopes he wont have to skip the meal to watch for the bandits. It might be good for his finances if he did, but hunger is starting to claw at him.

“So,” Stark begins in a way Steve's certain he thinks sounds casual, “where are you headed?”

“Timely,” Steve says. “It's a small, but growing town. I'm going to be their sheriff.”

“They're lucky,” Stark says. As is so often the case, Steve has no reply to that, so he moves on.

“What about you?” He asks.

“San Francisco, I suppose. Though I'm sure it's got nothing on Timely.” Stark smiles at him, and Steve wonders again how much of the night before he remembers.

“Good morning, gents,” a porter interrupts them. It's the same porter who had helped them the night before, and Steve wonders if he's the only damn porter on the train. They would have the luck of being caught by the only porter who knows Steve by name. Sure, there's nothing truly suspicious about their behavior yet, but if the porter decides later that Steve is up to something, he wont have any trouble taking him to account. “Can I ask why you're standing over here where the air is so brisk?” The porter asks, although Steve finds it lacks the character of a real question. “I think you'd both find your seats a good deal more comfortable.”

Steve had recovered his gun from his baggage when they had passed his seat, but he hopes it's well concealed now. He doesn't think it wise to escalate things with the porter, not if it can be helped. He and Stark turn away, putting a car between themselves and the porter before Steve turns back to see if he can spot him through the two doors and full car separating them. “We'll have to wait for him to leave,” he says, Stark’s presence warm at his side.

“Or,” Stark says quietly, “we could find a new vantage point.”

“What do you have in mind?”

Stark opens his mouth, but before he can answer, a group of porters enters the car from the direction of the front of the train. They're led by the large man Steve remembers had been talking to Stark when he'd first boarded the train. Steve supposes him to be the engineer. At any rate, He projects an air of authority. Steve leans against the wall, casually, hoping the group will pass them by. Maybe they've caught on to the bandits’ hideout, he thinks.

He's not that lucky.

“Steven Rogers?” the large man asks.

“That's me,” he answers cautiously. A more cautious man would have lied.

“We've been given reason to suspect you've information on the robbery that's just occurred.” Two of the porters flank Steve, shoving Stark aside and gripping Steve's arms.

“Hang on now—” Steve starts.

“This is ridiculous,” Stark protests, cutting in, physically pushing himself into the tangle. “I can vouch for this man's innocence, he was with me the entire time.”

“Well, that may be, Mr. Stark. We only want to ask him a question or two,” He holds up his hands as a gesture of peace, like he really means what he's saying. Steve wonders if he does. The engineer turns to the porters, directing them to “Put him somewhere secure, I'll come have a talk with him later.”

The porters start to pull Steve through the door, to the back of the train. It's an awkward movement for Steve, they're pulling him backwards so he can't see where hes stepping. It makes it a challenge for him to plant his feet to put up a real struggle.

“By the by,” the engineer says, blocking Stark's path. “We never got to have our drink earlier.”

The door closes on the scene and Steve watches through ice streaked glass as Stark is muscled off in the other direction. The punch catches him by surprise. It stings, and Steve's surprise gives the men enough time to lock manacles around his wrists. They pat him down, and pull his gun from his coat pocket, and then push him into the next car. The passengers stare in open curiosity as he's dragged through. Steve knows what they all must be thinking, and he's not too keen on playing scapegoat for the heist he'd tried to stop.

Swift hands unlock the luggage car, and Steve is shoved in, landing hard on his shoulder. He's up in a moment, but the porters are faster and he hits the door with the shoulder he'd only just landed on. Pain shoots down his arm and stars burst behind his eyes.

“Wait!” he calls, head pressed to the cool wood and eyes shut tight against the pain. “The bandits are in here,” he finishes to himself.

“I'm sure they'll be right back,” a voice says behind him, low and mocking. Steve turns, still leaning his weight on the door. In the darkness he can make out a lot of shapes. He can't yet tell which ones belong to men.

“I hope so,” Steve says, willing his eyes to adjust, “I really don't want to miss breakfast.”

 

 

After the second boot collides with his head, things start to get a bit fuzzy. Every blow to his body jolts him back into focus for the pain of impact, and then he finds he has just enough time to drift off before he's struck again.

“Oh now don't fall asleep on us,” one of the men says, his stinking breath on Steve's face. Steve has the satisfaction of hearing cartilage break when he headbutts him. Of course, that only prompts fierce retaliation. Steve had gotten some good hits in, at the start of things, even though he hadn't been able to see a thing. But once they'd got him on the ground, the odds had turned against him quickly. He thinks there are only two of them right now, though he can't be sure. He wonders what might've happened to their third, the one he shot.

One of the men has Steve pinned down now, sitting on his shackled arms. He hears tearing fabric, and then he can feel his feet being bound. More fabric, and it's coming down in front of his eyes. He shakes his head, tries his best to roll the man off of him, but there are more hands on his head keeping him still. They pull the blindfold snug, and tie it off.

Another blow to the head, and something darker than the blindfold takes him.

 

When Steve comes to the train has stopped again. He has no idea how long it has been. It might be the breakfast stop, or it might be another side track. The men are still there, at least, since he can hear them. He's certain now that there are only two. He wonders if the injured man hadn't been able to make the jump, re-board the train.

He stays still, feigns sleep. They seem to have forgot about him, at least for the time being. Staying still has additional benefits, as his shoulders ache from having his arms behind his back for so long—his injured shoulder especially—and he suspects that if he were to try and move, Steve would find that to be the least of his pains.

He hopes Stark is having a lovely breakfast.

A short while later there’s a knock at the door. It seems to follow a specific pattern; Four knocks, then two, then three. He hears the door open and is unsurprised to recognize the porter's voice as he talks to the bandits. They're speaking too low for Steve to make out the words, but he thinks they may be making their move soon. About damn time.

Soon, the voices stop and the door closes, and not long after train is in motion again. Steve discovers that the jolting motion of the train is none too comfortable from his current position.

“All right, we're getting close, get the tools!” Shouts the bandit who Steve has decided must be the leader, and Steve hears the other man scrambling toward the door of the car. Good. Now is his chance. He rolls onto his good shoulder, and rubs his face against the ground, pushing the blindfold up and out of the way of his eyes. Then he pulls his knees up and gently eases his cuffed arms down around his backside and legs. It's a tight, uncomfortable squeeze, and it pulls on his shoulder fiercely, but the length of chain is just long enough for it to work. Once he’s got his hands in front of him again, he uses his elbows to crawl to the very back of the car, keeping the chain taught to minimize the noise. The bandits, too busy watching for some unknown signal at the other end of the car, don't hear a thing.

Steve pulls himself upright in the corner, behind a large crate that lets him seethe bandits while keeping most of his body hidden. It's the work of a moment to untie the poorly done knot around his ankles, and then he's as free as he's likely to be without a blacksmith's intervention.

He looks around, assessing what else he can use against the men. He might be able to walk, but he's still in no state to take them on hand to hand. The leader has a gun in each hand, and the other man is holding what looks to be a large wrench. He might be able to sneak up behind the man with the wrench and hold him to use as a shield against the leader, Steve thinks, but before that line of thought can get any further, something in the corner of his vision catches his attention. He can see a dark shape through a crack where the back door wont close properly. He presses himself further against the back wall to get a better angle and almost loses his balance.

It's Stark. Stark is standing pressed against the outside of the car, sneaking glances inside. Steve's heart beats faster. On one hand, he could use the help. On the other, Stark's got a good chance of ending the day in a pine box.

Their eyes meet and Stark slowly raises a shining object into Steve's view. It's a gun. Steve could kiss him. He shoves that aside, knowing better than to follow where that thought would lead—at least for the moment.

“Shoot them,” he mouths to Stark, but Stark shakes his head. Steve frowns and nods insistently, gesturing at the men and miming firing a gun. Forgetting of course, how much sound his manacled hands would make.

“Hey!” the leader shouts, and Steve ducks to avoid his gunfire, the bullets ripping through the wood above him like paper. Just then, a flash of light, a wave of heat, and a deafening explosion consume the front of the car, knocking the bandits to the floor and Steve against the back wall. His first thought is that he hopes Stark wasn't thrown from the train.

The men recover quickly, the one with the wrench on his feet in an instant. When the bandit looks to Steve, he wonders if he ought to feel flattered that he ranks higher than an explosion on the man’s list of current threats. He supposes these men haven't heard that Steve doesn't like to shoot a man with his back turned. Steve kicks a suitcase into the man's gut, knocking him backwards onto the floor, his head landing where the front wall used to be. The leader is up not a moment later, guns staring Steve in the face. Steve scrambles for cover, shots blasting through the crates and baggage around him.

“Rogers!” he hears Stark's voice through the blasts. The gun Stark was carrying is flying through the air and he catches it, fumbling a little with his bound hands. He recognizes it instantly. It's his gun. Gunshots continue, and when he looks back up, there are four holes in the door and Stark is gone. Steve swallows and pushes down his feelings, no time to think about it now.

He aims at the leader and fires, but only nicks his shoulder as he ducks out of the way.

“The pass!” calls the other bandit, no longer lying flat. Through the smoldering hole at the front of the car, Steve can see a break in the rough mountainous terrain, and the dark shapes of what could be men and horses.

“Get the pin out, you idiot!” shouts the leader. Steve bolts for the front of the car; he has no interest in being trapped in a runaway luggage car while the bandits meet their reinforcements. Out of the corner of his eye he sees the leader aim his pistols, but he must be out of bullets, because all Steve hears is a loud oath.

Steve has almost crossed the car when he feels a pull on his legs and finds himself face to face with the floor once again, the leader pinning his calves. His gun was knocked from his hand in the fall, and he reaches futilely for it. He can see the other bandit fumbling with the connection between the cars, so close, but currently unreachable. There's another man there too, helping, and Steve thinks it's the traitorous porter from before. He kicks out blindly, uselessly, trying to catch the man pinning him anywhere it might hurt.

“It's stuck!” The apparently incompetent bandit shouts.

Steve's head is smashed into the floor, twice for good measure, and then he weight of the lead bandit is moving over and off of him. Through blurry eyes Steve watches the three men pulling with wrenches and bare hands on the connecting pin. He can't have much time left. He tries with sore arms and a throbbing head to push himself up, every millisecond feeling like borrowed time.

A fourth man joins them, apparently from the top of the train. Steve despairs for a brief moment, before the man hauls the young bandit up, and slugs him. The man lands in a sprawl next to Steve, out cold, and Steve finds that his vision has cleared enough to identify the man. It's Stark again. Thin, civilian Anthony Stark, who is outnumbered two to one by practiced criminals.

Steve practically jumps to his feet, fighting a wave of dizziness as he does so. The men are both distracted by Stark for the moment, but he's sure that wont last long with their advantage. He watches Stark take a blow to the jaw and his stomach turns over. He gets himself behind the leader as quickly as he can without making too much sound, glad, for once, of the endless roar of the tracks. He pulls the chain between his hands tight, throws his arms over the man's head and then pulls back sharply, the chain snug, choking, against the bandit's neck. He pulls as tight as he can, tugging him away from the rail coupling. The man's grasping hands claw at his own, limbs flailing in any attempt to turn himself loose or hit Steve.

He has little attention to spare for watching Stark's fight with the porter, but he doesn't think it's going well. He pulls tighter. The bandit goes limp. Steve releases him, unhooking the chain from around his neck. He's only unconscious, Steve's sure, but it'll have to do for now—Stark is about to be knocked over the railing.

Steve lunges for the porter, pulling him away from Stark. The man is fast, turning on Steve and hitting him in his already bruised ribs. He blocks the next one, but his injuries are wearing on him. The porter manages to hit his bad shoulder and Steve stumbles back, paralyzed with the pain. One more blow and Steve is on the ground again, his head hanging off of the train, swinging low and dangerously close to the tracks.

He reaches for the wall of the car to pull himself up, the charred wood splintering in his hand. Steve almost loses his grip when the porter comes down on top of him, but he bites his lip and clutches the wall harder. The porter takes a bruising grip on his shoulders, pushing against his hold, trying to force him farther down onto the tracks. Steve shouts, the pain bursting behind his eyes, the singular focus of his entire body. He opens his eyes when, after a terrible crunch, the pain diminishes. He sees Stark standing over him, wrench in hand, wearing a satisfied expression, and not a small about of blood.

Stark offers him a hand up, and Steve takes it with his good arm. All of the bandits are down. Steve hopes they're only unconscious, so that they can be questioned, but if they're beyond questioning, well, Steve won't mourn them. He says a quick prayer anyway, surveying the carnage. Stark picks one of the leader’s guns up off the ground.

“Stark arms,” he declares. “Just like I told you.”

Stark tosses him the gun. Steve turns it over in amazement. He still can't understand how Stark had known. He really is a remarkable man.

“Smile, Steve,” Stark says, and Steve looks up to see the engineer, the rest of the porters, and the few passengers who could fit crowded into the back of the car ahead of them watching with stunned faces.

“Wild Bill Hickok, eat your heart out,” says Stark, clapping him on the back. Steve winces.

Chapter Text

The restaurant is almost certainly a lovely place, the food undoubtedly of high quality—it had better be, for an entire dollar—but Steve isn't paying much mind. He knows Stark has been talking the whole time, but hes not sure now about what, or if he's said anything in return. He thinks maybe he's only been watching Stark's lips move. His hands are still shaking a little, and though he should be ecstatic to have not missed breakfast after all, he doesn't really care. He feels good, though. Happy.

Everything had turned out quite well. Only two of the bandits had died and the others had confessed. The bandits in the hills had rode away instead of rescuing their fellows, they had said. No honor among thieves, Steve supposes. There hadn't even had much need of the bandits confessions, as the engineer and all of the porters had seen the whole thing anyway. They'd unlocked his wrists and thanked him and he hadn't even missed breakfast. He was going to be be a great sheriff.

“I'm sorry,” he tells Stark. “I think I missed that.”

Stark laughs. “You've not heard a thing I've said for the past thirty minutes,” he says, still smiling. He looks nice, even with the bruising on his jaw. It must hurt though. The town’s doctor had given Steve something for pain—had Stark gotten any?

“Sorry,” he repeats, though Stark's probably right, he doesn't really feel it. He thinks he's smiling too. He can't help it, with Stark smiling at him.

“I was saying it was a hell of a thing you did, taking on those men. What did you say you did in the war again?”

“Shot people, mostly,” Steve answers honestly.

“Right,” Stark says, his mouth doing an odd twist. “I'm sorry about the explosion, by the way. It was supposed to have been a bigger distraction than it ended up being.”

Steve shrugs, and then rests his head on his palm. “Don't worry about it. Everything worked out just fine.” Stark had apparently sacrificed his flask to the improvised explosive, so really it had been great.

“You've never taken laudanum before, have you?” Stark asks, sipping his drink. “He didn't give you that much.” Is that what the doctor had given him? The doctor had been great. He'd bandaged Steve's ribs and shoulder, sewed up his cheek, and pulled the splinters from his hand, and Steve hadn't even had to pay anything.

“I don't think so,” Steve says, trying to think back. He'd taken a lot of medications as a kid, but he can’t remember laudanum ever being among them.

“Come on,” Stark laughs and downs the rest of his drink. “Lets get you into a bed before you keel over.”

Steve likes the sound of that very much.

 

Instead of leading Steve to the passenger cars, Stark takes them to the back of the train. The men are unloading the partially destroyed luggage car. The train is going to be here for a few more hours yet, Steve knows, since they still have to replace the car and deal with the criminals. The engineer had been so apologetic that Steve feels a little sorry for him, seeing how he’d been made a fool of by a memeber of his own staff. He'd given Steve the price of his ticket back, which was had been more than generous of him.

“Just a moment,” Stark says. Leaving Steve's side to prod at a large crate, miraculously free of bullet holes. Stark picks a crowbar up off the ground and cracks it open, but the workmen don't even pause to look. Steve goes over to it, his curiosity getting the better of him. He helps Stark brush aside layers of straw and sawdust to reveal a large glass box and, inside of it, the bust of a man. While lifelike in proportions, it’s painted in bright colors, and clearly made of metal.

“What is it?” Steve asks, brushing a stray piece of straw away from the surface of the glass.

“This,” Stark begins, spreading his hands and projecting an air of gravity, “is my Vision of the future!” After a moment, his serious veneer cracks and he flashes Steve a smile. “He's a mechanical man. He tells your fortune. I'm just glad he's survived the journey. Of course, it is impossible to tell if he's really intact without getting him to a power source, but he looks all right.” There's a touching sort of affection in Stark's face as he looks down on his creation.

“That's amazing,” Steve says.

“Do you think so? I'm supposed to show him off to a buyer in San Francisco, but, well. No one’s had much interested in my work since—since the war.” Stark's smile has gone weak, “All right, come on.” He places the lid back onto the crate, hammering it back down with the crow bar. “I'm sorry to have sidetracked us. Let's get you to that bed.”

 

When Stark leads Steve back to his own car instead of the car where Steve had theoretically been sitting, Steve isn't surprised. However, he is surprised to find his bag lying across one of the benches.

“Do you mind?” Stark asks. “I thought I had better give you my bed for the night. For your injuries. I thought you might want your things.”

In lieu of answering, Steve takes Stark's face in his hands and kisses him soundly. For one warm, beautiful moment, Stark kisses back. But then he pulls away, leaving Steve at a loss.

“Later,” Stark promises, voice low. “Later, all right. You need to rest. You look like you've been hit by a train,” he jokes.

“I feel fine,” Steve insists, running his hand down Stark's shoulder.

“That's the laudanum talking. You, Steve Rogers, need to rest.” Stark's hands come up to Steve's shoulders, shaking him gently to emphasize Stark's words.

“Let me put it this way,” Steve says, stroking the back of his fingers down Stark's bristled cheek. I don't want the bed if you're not in it.”

Stark laughs. “That, I can work with.”

Stark does crawl into the bed with him, and Steve is asleep before his head hits the pillow.

 

He spends most of the next week in Stark's bed. Mostly asleep, sometimes with Stark, sometimes without. They watch the ever shifting scenery, and pass the time with conversation and card games. Sometimes Stark drinks, sometimes he doesn't. Steve doesn't take the laudanum again. All together it becomes one of the best journey's Steve's ever enjoyed, but he knows it'll come to an end at Timely station.

 

Steve wakes up to a wonderful warm feeling. As he slides into awareness, he shifts his hips, seeking it. Firm hands hold his hips down, and realization strikes all at once, his eyes flying open.

Steve watches, throat dry, as Stark places kisses down the side of his cock and then flattens his tongue and licks back up it. They haven't done this. They've kissed, fumbled around a little, but Steve had been too sore, or Stark too drunk for them to get much farther. Clumsy handjobs are one thing, this is something else entirely. This is intimacy, trust, and it's been a long time since Steve has last had that. He can feel Stark rubbing himself against his leg, the dampness soaking through his underwear making a slick mess of Steve's thigh.

Stark licks up Steve's shaft one more time, before finally he takes the tip in his mouth and Steve groans. The wetness and the warmth are perfect and he can feel Stark's tongue pressing against the slit. Stark bobs his head down, taking more of Steve into his mouth, and hums with satisfaction. Steve's hands curl tighter in the sheets. He throws his head back, entire taut with tension as he holds back his climax. And then Stark takes him even further into his mouth, and Steve almost loses it. Heavenly Father above, is that his throat?

“Stark, what are you doing?” Steve groans, the tone of his voice giving the words character of a curse.

Stark sucks gently at the head of his cock and then pulls off. “I think you'd better call me Tony,” he says with a twisted smile.

“Tony,” Steve corrects when Stark's clever mouth returns to its work, and his rough fingers press on the area behind Steve's balls. “Tony,” he gasps. He resorts to biting on his lip to keep himself from the edge. It's captivating, watching himself disappear into Tony's mouth, seeing how wide it's stretched for him, feeling the softness of his tongue, the ridges of his pallet. Steve's lip starts to bleed.

He slides a hand through Tony's loose locks, and feels Tony hum around him in satisfaction. With the other hand Steve traces his thumb down Tony's jaw, feels himself through Tony's cheek, and when Tony hums again, Steve loses his fight for self control, barely managing to grunt out a warning before he's spilling into Tony's perfect mouth.

“Come here,” he says, pulling on Tony's shoulders.

Tony complies, curling into him when Steve pulls him into a wet, messy kiss. He pushes his tongue into Tony's mouth, tasting himself on his lips. Tony groans and Steve rolls them over so that Tony is under him.

“That's a hell of a way to wake a man up,” he says, still breathless from his climax.

“You didn't like it?” Tony asks, although his face makes it clear he knows the answer.

“You're something else,” Steve can't keep the affection out of his voice, when he brushes a curl away from Tony's eye.

“It's our last day together,” Tony says, running his own hands through Steve's hair. “I thought we ought to start it out right.”

“Lets not talk about that,” Steve insists, taking Tony's mouth in a kiss once more. He bites and sucks his lips, and then moves on to his neck, giving it a similar treatment until Tony is breathing nothing but curses and Steve's own name. Steve nips at his earlobes, cups his rear, does everything he's learned Tony enjoys in their clumsy sessions, and then, when Tony has no more words, lost in Steve's fingers and mouth, Steve slips his hand beneath the fabric of Tony's underclothes and wraps his hand around him. In just a few tight pulls, Tony is releasing himself into Steve's hand and onto their stomachs. Steve kisses his panting lips and then eases himself down onto his shoulder. After a moment, something catches his eye.

“Where'd you get this?” Steve asks, stroking the raised circle of scar tissue below Tony’s left collarbone. Steve can guess. It's the same size as a ball from a muzzle-loader.

“It's not really pillow talk,” Tony pants, cracking his eyes open to squint at Steve in confusion.

“You don't have to say.”

“Some battle,” Tony shrugs, rolling onto his side and throwing an arm over Steve's middle. Don't remember which one. I spent some time as a prisoner of war, it's a little hazy.”

“I'm sorry,” Steve says. He's sure that must have been rough. Steve had his own scars, they all did, and Steve knew a lot of men who medicated the way Tony does.

“Tony,” he says, brushing his hand through Tony's dark hair, “you don't have to answer this either, but when you helped me with the bandits, you refused to shoot them. Why?”

“I've put bullet holes in enough men for one lifetime, don't you think?” Stroking the circle of scar tissue, Steve privately agrees.

 

Tony spends the rest of the morning taking pulls from his flask and staring out the window. They don't talk much. Steve thinks that maybe the only thing left to say is goodbye.

By noon the train is pulling into Timely's station.

 

Steve takes a deep breath of the warm, dry air, acclimatizing himself to the smells of his new home. It smells clean. Earthy. Just the way a new start ought to smell. There is something he can't let go of yet, though. Tony had disappeared a little before their arrival, and Steve hasn't seen him since. It's a shame, he thinks. He would really liked to have been able to say goodbye. He'd never properly thanked him for saving his life, either.

He'd thought they'd have one last meal together. It would only be right, after... everything. He feels an unexpected sense of loss. An uninvited dark cloud casting a shadow on his new horizon. Steve takes one last look at the train, hefts his bag higher onto his shoulder, and sets off into town. He doesn't know anyone here– Bucky wont be joining him for a few weeks yet– but he expects to get to know each and every resident. These people are going to be his people he thinks, tipping his hat to the faces that stare at him as he passes.

He comes to the inn and tavern, which seems a good enough place as any to ask for directions. When he steps inside he tenses, not sure what sort of scene he's interrupted. The place is quite full, and the whole mass of people is gathered in one huddle around the bar. They seem peaceful, and he can hear one man talking when he inches his way through the crowd.

“—and he pulled that chain tight around the bandits neck, using his own shackles to strangle him. The man turned blue, then purple, then white as a sheet, and just like that all the robbers were dead as doornails.” An excited murmur goes through the crowd but is quickly hushed. “And who do you suppose this man is?” More murmurs, “Well, I'll tell you. He says, he says to me, 'Well, sir, I'm going to be a sheriff. I'm going to be the sheriff of a great little town, a town” a pause for dramatic effect, “called Timely.” the crowd erupts at last, a chorus of “no, he ain’t,” and “where's he at,” and Steve finds himself pushed through the crowd by their jostling like a child being swept out to sea.

He emerges into the center of the ring, and Steve decides his life might go smoother if he gave up on being surprised to see Tony Stark. Or maybe just being surprised at him all together.

“Well, hello Sheriff,” he says with bright eyes and wide smile. “The man himself!” he announces to the crowd. “Sheriff Steven Rogers.”

Steve feels every eye on the room fall on him. His people, he reminds himself. And then he's ambushed. His hand is grabbed and soundly shaken again and again, he's asked about all of the details of Tony's story (which range from greatly exaggerated to entirely fictionalized), he's thumped on the back, bought at least four drinks which he manfully refuses and then manfully downs once its clear refusal is not an option, and is generally enthusiastically accepted into the community. By the time Steve has a chance to breathe, he's a somewhat sore, a little bit dizzy, and a good bit drunk.

Like this, he finds his way back to Tony Stark.

“What are you doing here?” Steve asks leaning on the bar.

“What it looks like, I'm having a drink,” Tony says, raising his glass in demonstration.

“I think I've had more to drink than you have,” Steve frowns. “Aren't you gonna miss your train?”

“I just made you toast of the town, do you really want me gone that badly?” Tony is teasing, but Steve thinks he has to be serious.

“'Course not,” he says, “I like you, Tony. You're great. You're really great. But don't you have to be in San Antonio?”

“San Francisco,” Tony laughs. “I meant to tell you, Steve, but it took me and the men a while to get the crate down, and then you were gone. I'm going to stay here for a few days, I think. I want to see this town of yours.”

Steve feels a smile overtake his face, the last dark cloud drifting away. “I'm sure it's got nothing on San Francisco,” he says, “but you can stay for as long as you like.”