When Tony had gotten into the music business -- Jesus, it was kind of stunning to realise that that was almost seven years ago already -- he hadn't had much more than ambition, what with the way his father had disowned him and kicked him out without much more than the clothes on his back. He'd spent the first three years just fighting to make enough money to keep himself afloat until he could put together a proper set for an audition tape.
Back then, his gear had been sub-par, and he'd had to use his deft touch with tech to tweak the sound quality, essentially doing the post-processing himself. It had gotten him a few gigs, though, and those had eventually led to larger venues and bigger paychecks.
When, five years after he'd been kicked out of his parents' house, he'd been signed to a label at age 23, Tony had spent a couple of hours just huddled in a corner of his dingy apartment on the fringes of Chinatown, trying not to let the relief break him down and tear him apart.
That night, he'd partied hard enough to make up for at least one of his years of hard work. He was in.
It hadn't exactly been easy, after that, and he'd been forced to bow to the label's demands for years. He wrote his own music, defiant, keeping it to himself, safely hidden away where no one could get at it: in his head. The label's owner had gotten very friendly with him after finding out exactly who he had signed, and insisted Tony call him 'Obie'. It had felt weird, at first.
And, though it had taken time, he'd clawed his way up high enough to feel reasonably secure. He'd probably never quite reach the airy heights that the heroes he aspired to emulate had. The restrictions Obie had kept putting on him had chafed, but he'd needed the label. Needed the contacts they could provide, and the gear.
The only person at the label he could tolerate -- and even that had taken some time to accomplish -- was Natalie Rushman. Her unimpressed expression when he'd hit on her on their first meeting, and the way she'd effortlessly shot him down, had stung, but Tony was nothing if not resilient. He'd been back a week later, trying to smooth things over. She'd raised a delicate eyebrow at him, and silently accepted the flowers he'd brought.
Later that day, Obie had appeared, a heavy hand falling on Tony's shoulder, to ask whether he and Natalie were involved. Something had felt a trifle off. False. But he hadn't known better, then. Hadn't known to trust that gut instinct. He'd gone about his work, making his music and enjoying the payoff of his hard work.
That had all been Before. And yes, it merited capitalization.
Before Obie had tried to sue him for breach of contract.
It had all been completely spurious, but Tony'd had no way to prove it. He'd floundered for a couple of months, trying to lose himself in a bottle, while time slipped through his fingers and the court date loomed, until, two weeks ago, a bland-looking man in a well-tailored suit had knocked at his door. He'd kept the tiny apartment he'd started out in, partially out of nostalgia, and paid to renovate it himself. It was a small oasis of modernity among the other crappy apartments surrounding it.
The guy had walked in like he owned the place, looked around and nodded. "Mr. Stark," he'd said, holding out a business card that Tony gingerly accepted but didn't look at, "I'm here with an offer. I've been contacted by a mutual acquaintance who has suggested you might require my services."
A glance down at the card he held confirmed Tony's suspicions. A lawyer.
"If I lose this case, I won't be able to pay you," he said, the admission dragged out of him.
That had set the tone for their whole working relationship; Tony had decided to just roll with it. He didn't know of any entertainment lawyers in all of New York that would actually put in the effort to defend him, and that had been a large part of his lack of reaction to Obie's betrayal. The dynamic hadn't changed since.
There were just over two more weeks before the court date, and Coulson spent nearly all of them grilling him for every detail he could think of, putting together as solid a defense as he could muster. That had been enough to convince Tony of his investment in the case after the first afternoon, and when he'd relaxed so had the suit.