“This is a stupid bet,” Steve grumbles.
“Only because you’ll lose.” Bucky clambers up from beneath the table and sets a fresh stack of trial study application forms on top, brushing off his pants.
Steve smiles at a man as he passes the booth and picks up one of their leaflets. It’s the third and last day of the fair, and they’ve already had to order two extra boxes of brochures, applications, and another set of Sam’s business cards. It’s doubly fantastic, to be getting so much interest from the veterans in their area, and to be promoting Sam Wilson’s counseling services. Steve knows he and Bucky can both get behind that; they’ve benefited personally from Sam’s support.
Once the man is gone again, Steve glowers at Bucky. “I am fully capable of getting a date without your help.”
“What?” Bucky screws a finger into his ear, then waves to a passing group of boys with his newfangled prosthetic. Steve hears an energetic chorus of ‘cool!’ “I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you over all the not getting laid you’re doing.”
Steve rolls his eyes, hands another flyer out, and chucks the crumpled napkin from his last hamburger at Bucky’s head. It’s his second today; so sue him, he’s hungry. Down the way, a Zydeco band has started playing, lifting the energy exponentially. They buckle down for a while, explaining the trial study—high tech prostheses like Bucky’s being refined for everyday use for returning amputees—and generally gathering more interest from the crowd.
“What we really need to do is find you a prostitute.”
“Buck,” Steve hisses, scandalized.
Bucky smiles winningly at the woman in front of their booth, who has severe scarring on her face and throat, and has just burst into snorting laughter. “High end, Steve, don’t worry. Flyer?”
Luckily Steve has an easy out. “I can’t afford a prostitute, high end or otherwise,” he says sourly once the woman leaves.
“Oh, I think we could pull something together. I made thirty bucks walking dogs on Wednesday.”
“Bucky, shut up,” Steve moans, rubbing his face.
“Okay, not a prostitute,” Bucky says, unperturbed. He loudly calls a few more people over and distributes flyers. “But you are asking someone out. You seriously need to get some.”
“I’ll ‘get some’ when I damn well want some,” he growls and, true to form, Bucky senses when he’s pushing too far and comes in from another angle.
“I just want you to have fun. You’re too serious these days. You’re always at work, you barely even look at your art books anymore. I think it’d do you some good, getting out for a night. Or getting in,” he snickers, because he’s still Bucky.
Steve rolls his eyes, and for the next few minutes, they’re busy shepherding a group of older vets through the sign-up process. He wonders what his chances are of Bucky forgetting this subject within the next five minutes, and decides they’re slim to none.
He could always go get another burger.
When the rush clears, Bucky takes a break, stepping back and slugging deeply from his beat up water bottle. His labs have been a little funky of late and he’s been told to stay hydrated. “You know what? I’m going to pick someone out for you.”
“No.” Steve grits his teeth, mid-smile. “You are not.”
“You don’t have to marry the guy. Just take him out for the evening! And then bring him back to the hovel. For coffee, possibly sex.”
“Possibly not sex. But definitely coffee. We just cleaned the joint, remember? It’s fit for public consumption.”
“Buck, we live in Crown Heights,” he says, letting his accent through. “Nobody’s comin’ home with me.”
“Ain’t nothin’ wrong with Crown Heights,” Bucky retorts, following Steve’s lead.
“I know that, and you know that,” Steve says, lapsing fully into awky vowels and unfinished consonants. “But the average Islander, he don’t know that.”
“And there ain’t nothin’ wrong with you,” Bucky goes on. “They should be so lucky, takin’ a guy like you home.”
Steve smiles at his friend. But he can see he’s not going to win this. Maybe he can mitigate it a little. “And what if he slugs me and steals our Playstation?” he says, dropping the accent.
Bucky claps him on the shoulder. “That’s where I come in.”
Steve slaps his hand away. “Oh, no, you are leaving for the evening, Barnes.”
“So there will be something to watch?”
“Not for you,” Steve shoots back.
“As long as you can see it, I’m good with that.” Bucky drains his bottle and grabs Steve’s, then pauses. “Ah.”
Oh, God, what now?
“There he is, folks.” Bucky points with the stopper of the bottle. “That, my friend, is your man of the hour.”
Steve snatches his water bottle from Bucky and takes a swig, ready to fend off the joke at someone else’s expense. And chokes on his water.
Because not only has Bucky picked the handsomest, most well-dressed man Steve has seen in years. He’s picked out the guy Steve’s been secretly ogling for the past two days.
“This is a stupid bet,” Rhodey says out of the side of his mouth. Behind him Tony scoffs.
“You don’t think I can do it. How can you not think I can do this?”
“I’m telling you, it’s not going to work.” Rhodey flips a page in his tabloid. “Ooh. Giant squid attacks seaside town, look.” He waves the picture over his shoulder. Tony lowers his glasses to view the photoshop travesty.
“I bet it was Malibu.”
“You bettin’ again?”
Tony spins around on his Converse, spreading his arms like he’s the second coming just so he can hear Rhodey snort. “And why won’t it work? I could pass.”
“Uh, for one, because everyone already knows who you are.” Rhodey flips a page, then pops it with his fingers and waves the picture over his shoulder again. It’s Tony, apparently the sperm donor to a set of spider monkey triplets. “Problem with being a celebrity billionaire. They’ll take one look at you and know you’re not a high class hooker.”
“The high class hooker. I’m the best dressed person here.”
“See, that’s another reason you won’t pick anyone up. Even if they are thinking along those lines, they know they’d never be able to afford you.”
“I could offer a discount.” Tony tips his head back, enjoying the sunlight on his face. He’s been in the workshop too long. It’s a beautiful spring day, not too hot, not too hipster. “First five comers, half off.”
“Cute.” Rhodey shakes his head, mutters, “More like all off.”
“Only if they’re lucky. I’m telling you, it’s in the bag.”
“Tony,” Rhodey says on a sigh. At least he’s staying away, even if he isn’t exactly hiding the fact that he knows Tony. With his dress blues, he’d give the game away so fast Tony would need to dance the Samba naked in the street for anyone to give him a second look.
Well. Dance naked again, anyway. “Yes, hot cross?”
“Would you stop naming me after baked goods?” Rhodey glowers at his objectionable newspaper. “Making me hungry. It’s been three days of you strutting around out here like you’re god’s gift to America’s finest, and you haven’t even had a nibble. What on earth makes you think you have this nailed? Don’t,” he says immediately, holding up a finger over his shoulder. “Poor choice of words, do not say it.”
“You wound me, Rhodes. I will hit that like a hammer.”
“And there you go, saying it.”
“I will screw that driver right in.”
“Peg A into Hole B.”
“You are fired, Tony.”
Tony takes off his glasses. “You can’t fire me from my own company.”
“Tell me, how much energy have you spent pushing this trial study and how much pushing your new vocation?”
“Locked in three separate sponsors this morning, ninety thou each.”
“And you didn’t even have to sleep with them.” Rhodey puts away the magazine and selects another one. “Okay. Fine. I see that you are in fact pulling your weight here.”
“Child’s play. Hence, the side project.”
“I just don’t see why you have to trawl here.”
“Because confidence?” Tony gestures in a circle, winking at one particularly arresting sergeant as he passes with an elderly woman who is obviously his mother. “Poise? Self discipline? Muscles up to here? Rhodey. Have you even looked at these people?”
“Yes. I see a whole lot of survivors who deserve to be proud of the sacrifices they’ve made for our freedom, and don’t deserve to be propositioned by bored Howard Hughes.”
“Aw, honey bunches.” Tony surveys the field again. “Joke’s on you. Those in my line of work don’t do the propositioning.”
Rhodey throws up his hands. “You are not a high class hooker, Tony.”
“I said no.”
“Because you’d lose.”
“Because I’d feel cheap.”
“I’d take you to dinner.”
“You always take me to dinner.”
“Doing that anyway.”
Rhodey pauses. “That’s in Kyoto.”
“We’ll get puffer fish.”
“I—” He blinks and points at Tony’s head. “No. No, you are not bribing me into this.”
“Not a bribe.”
“It is totally a bribe.”
“I’m not scared.”
“Scared to bet against me.”
“I am not scared to bet against you.”
“General Snyder deserves to know about all this fear.”
“Tony, there is no fear.”
“Fear that I’ll win.”
“No, you won’t.”
“Fine!” Rhodey slaps the paper down on the stand, startling the vendor. “Fine, I bet you that you can’t pick up a john at this veterans’ street fair while pretending to be world’s most expensive male escort. Because you can’t.”
“Good.” Tony claps his hands. “I know just the guy to go for.”
“Oh my god,” Rhodey says, rubbing his face with both hands.
“What? Piece of cake.”
“How so?” Muffled.
Tony smirks his most syrupy smirk. “He’s only been watching me since yesterday.”