Manhattan greets darkfall with a flourish; the pulsing light grids of varying intensities on her body, the tinkle of laughter, crush of crowds, buildings festooned with messages scrawled across their façades. From the view of his rented suite, Tony Stark sees his city; capricious and wanton, overbearing and alluring, teasing him to come and play in its bosom, but warning him of the dangers if he should lose.
Bright lights, big city. Sin city. His city.
Manhattan is down there, sprawled at his feet. Tony can feel its throb on the air, pressing at the glass. It's Friday, everything (sin) is fun on a Friday. Tony is in the mood to be seduced, to be lost in an orgy of silken flesh with the first half dozen women who catch his eye.
Mentally, Tony catalogues himself, catching his image on the tempered glass; dark slim fitting suit, white shirt, his form more translucent than solid, a faint outline of him hovering over Manhattan �" that's how he feels lately.
Morosely �" because shit he hates feeling this way- Tony takes a sip at his scotch. His alcohol threshold is such that tossing back another tumbler of alcohol is that of the average person sipping tap water. It's a (need) habit, nothing more.
I should go out, he thinks. After all, I'm actually dressed.
Suddenly his pocket vibrates. Idly, Tony presses the phone through the material of his pocket to put it on loud speaker. "Stark," he says, voice filled with bonhomie and fun. Despite how badly Tony feels, he'll never, ever let on. Doom and gloom aren't his brand.
"Steve," Tony answers, never losing the inflection of cheer in his voice, but puzzled as to why Steve would call him, because no lie, if they weren't team-mates, he and Captain Stick-up-his ass wouldn't even be breathing the same air in the same lifetime.
"I'm down stairs. We need to talk."
"Sure. Come on up." Tony says, curiosity piqued in spite of himself. Steve Rogers is many things, but boring is never one of them, he thinks, listening to the sharp staccato buzz of the ring tone, signifying that Steve has broken their connection. Nice to know that Little Boy Blue finally got around to learning how to use a cell phone.
Luckily too, for Little Boy Blue, Tony has given the concierge express permission to send his team-mates up to his rooms without a by his leave.
Steve finds himself on the threshold, taken aback at the new face at the door. He opens his mouth, thinking to ask for Jarvis, Stark's majordomo, but remembers and shapes his mouth into a greeting instead. This is not even Stark's home, but a hotel on the tony side of Manhattan. He smiles at the elderly maidservant, and hands off his jacket and cap. Yes, he's had a good trip, he answers, giving the woman a short, sharp tilt of the head. "Ma'am."
"He's expecting you," she says. The woman is a study in sobriety, unrelieved black, her hair a crown of silver, just like Gail's. Her accent makes Steve think of Londoners during The Blitz, the dignified, quiet crispness of it. Keep calm, and carry on.
She offers Steve refreshment. He demurs.
Steve works his way through the penthouse, and not for the first time he's surprised at how much Tony Stark has, with rugs of muted colours under his feet, giving way to the sleek, black marble that's wet, oiled slick on the floor. The condo opens itself to the night, allowing the Manhattan skyline to steal in, with only tempered glass separating them from the earth below.
This suite of rooms covered more square footage than his old neighbourhood in Brooklyn. The décor of the rooms wasn't in that non descript cream that hotels tended to use. Each wall is done in shades of gilt and puce brocade, the furniture sensuous dark shapes relived with splashes of colours by cushions and throws in varying shades and patterns of chevron.
"Wah hey, Steve, "Tony greets him, and immediately Steve notices something amiss.
Normally, Tony lounges around in his rooms in unfastened robe, underwear and bare feet, hair askew. Tonight, he's clad in black suit, a closer fit than Steve remembers the fashionable male wearing in his day. The trousers ride on hips, instead of waist, the severe lines of the suit is broken up by a snowy unbuttoned white shirt, showing a flash of chest. His hair is however, still askew, as if he's been running his fingers through it.
If nothing else, there's a mirror shine to his shoes �" for that Steve inwardly gives his grudging approval �"and a glass of something amber coloured at the tips of his fingers. Stark is standing in the middle of the room, arms outstretched, as if he's framing the view by the window, ready to offer the light limed bridge in the distance to some unsuspecting government official for sale.
"You're on your way out?" Steve asks, not that he cares. Stark comes and goes whenever he pleases, and if he weren't a team-mate, they wouldn't have anything to do with each other… but Steve tamps down on that thought.
"Perhaps," Tony says, smiling. "The night is still young," he pauses, to sip at the diminishing liquid from his tumbler.
Steve looks at his watch. It is nine o' clock. Tony is right, the night is still young.
"Hey, can I get you a drink?" Tony asks, moving over to the far side of a room to a- mini bar? Yes, it's a mini bar, complete with rows of bottles in the shelves behind the walls, a low shelf with tools of the barrister's craft. Sharp knives, drink shakers, lemon wedges in the bowl in the mini fridge.
A wide, sweeping counter, with a glossy inky surface, and now that the glint of light on glass has caught his eye, there's a heavy, square bottle there, with a skinny neck. The brand is Johnny Walker Black and Steve wonders again, at Stark's capacity for drink.
"No thanks." Steve shakes his head, wishing that he could ask someone else this favour. Clint, because he didn't do small talk, or even Fury �" but Fury is the one to avoid now. Tony Stark, he has come to realise, thrives on small talk, on the societal niceties that Steve has no use for.
"C'mon," Tony shrugs a shoulder as he refills his glass. "This is the nectar of the gods. It should be bathed in, sung about."
"Fine," Steve says. "A beer if you have it."
A pitying look from Tony, as if Tony offered him the world and all Steve wanted was a glass of water.
"Fine," Stark says. "Beer's in the fridge, help yourself."
Soon, Steve finds himself seated on the edge of the sofa in the dining room. Tony has bade the maidservant good night with a broad wink and no, we won't be needing you any more. Thank you darling.
Steve rolls his eyes at Tony's familiarity.
With a bob of her head, and a quiet, professional smile for both of the men, she lets herself out, and they're alone.
"I'm surprised, Stark. I thought you liked them younger."
"Hardee har har." Tony snickers with frank amusement. It's rare for Rogers to make a joke, go snarky. If they were friends, Tony would be proud. As it is, he's just amused.
Tony is perched at the edge of a plump hassock, adjacent to the sofa Steve's sitting on. In front of them is a sleek, low coffee table that seems to be made out of molten metal.
"Wanna watch the game?" Tony says, sliding his fingers over the table's surface, only for Steve to see the wall in front of them explode into nothing but sharply defined images of crowds and a ball curving over a baseball diamond. The sound is muted.
"No," Steve says, putting his beer down. It's been almost three quarters of an hour since he's been here, and he still hasn't gotten around to the purpose of his visit. Instead, he's found himself observing Tony Stark, the easy smile contrasting with the sharp gaze that gives nothing away. Stark's tapped the table with his fingers, the wall has gone into shadow again.
"I'm here for a favour, Stark."
Tony pulls a face, and for a brief moment Steve wonders if he has offended.
"Okay, let me refill my glass." Tony sighs heavily. "I shouldn't have sent Beatrice away,"
"I'll get it." Steve rolls his eyes, placing his hands on his knees and bracing himself to get up. He has to move anyway, girding his loins, wondering how he can frame his request.
"Johnny Walker Black, just bring the bottle."
As Steve walks over, he places the bottle in Tony's outstretched hand, Tony grabs on to the bottom of the bottle, Steve holds on to its neck. Their eyes meet, and Steve wills himself to look at Tony Stark, to ask him this favour.
Stark's eyes are a darker blue than his; they are a stormy blue, under thick lashes, and well shaped brows. Strangely, for all of Stark's drinking, he doesn't have alcohol bloat; his face is defined by sharp cheekbones. His mouth is always curved into a smile that may or may not reach his eyes.
"I need you to make me an outfit, similar to T'Challa's," Steve says, amazed at how even his voice sounds.
"And T'Challa?" Tony asks, raising an eyebrow in query, still holding on to the bottle, one foot is on the floor, the other across his knee. The mirrored sheen of the leather catches the light.
The smile has reached Tony's eyes now, and they are alive with mirth.
"Never mind him."
Steve lets the bottle go, and walks towards the window. He's never seen Manhattan this high up, might as well enjoy the view. He'd never be able to afford it on his own coin.
"Hold up," Steve hears Tony's voice; it's cheerful, but not overly loud. He hears the muted slap of leather sole against glossy floor.
"What have you done to T'challa? Wait �" do I wanna know? Probably I don't wanna know."
"Don't worry about him. The less you know the better for you, with Fury and all."
Tony pauses at this, his fingers steepled in thought, his pointer fingers resting under his chin. He was right to take the call, because Steve Rogers is many things, but not boring.
Steve isn't looking at him, he's looking outside at Manhattan. His stance is wide legged, as if preparing for confrontation, arms at his sides. The Boy Scout isn't in uniform today, just jeans, and a soft grey sweater. The leather jacket and baseball cap are hanging by the clothing hook by the door.
Tony, clothes horse that he is, notes the brands. Mid market, unobtrusive.
Very GAP meets Abercrombie and Fitch. He suspects that the delicate hands of Janet Pym must have been a part of that purchase. Steve is wearing the clothes that Jan picked, an identity crafted for him by her. All American boy in foreign made goods. There's something of the symbolism in that, but Tony is not a man given to such small things.
"I'm assuming that the winsome Ms Pym cannot know?" Tony asks, using Janet's surname on purpose.
"No," Steve says, turning to look him in the eye. Tony approves. It's a damned big favour Steve's asking, so it's right for Steve to look him in the eye.
Rogers' eyes are a sharp-almost glacial- blue under blonde brows and fair lashes. Tony is secure enough in his sexuality to note that Steve is a handsome guy, if you like the even featured, all American type, with a blade of a nose, defined cheek bones, and even white teeth. Steve is slightly taller than him, so Tony has to tilt his head a bit to meet his gaze.
"Steve," Tony sighs, knowing that no good will come of this. Not that he cares, but it's an ingrained habit in him, to warn people before they screw themselves over �"usually to his benefit, mind. It's the least he can do.
Either way, he won't be bored.
"Will you do this for me, Stark?"
"Can you do it?"
"Perhaps," Tony says, shoving his hands in his pockets. "The question is, should I? What with the ethical-"
At this Steve laughs, and Tony knows he should be insulted, but instead he smiles.
"Sure, I'll do it." Tony decides on the spot. Steve has entertained him this evening, and has taken him out of his funk. "Give me a couple of evenings this week, and I'll get back to you."
At this Steve grins, and it's a real one this time, his eyes are warm, and although he's a latent fascist, too imperious for words and is tied up in some jingoistic ideas of America that seems out of step in this twenty first century world, Tony can see why Jan is attracted. Steve is almost - human.
"Steve, I'd be remiss if I didn't say this. This thing with Jan, you're-"
"I know," Steve says, his features are guarded now, there's a set to his jaw that's almost imperceptible, but it's there. He looks across at Tony, and continues.
"I know what she is, and I know what I am. I think if we just got past this-"
"She's still married, Steve."
"I'm sure that's never stopped you, Stark."
Wow, Tony thinks, so delighted with Steve's snark that he's willing to overlook the other man's aspersions on his character. Tony is wealthy enough for his faults to be seen as idiosyncrasies, anyway. So there.
"True," Tony drawls, and waves a hand. It feels odd, oh yeah, there's no glass at the end of it. "Steve, you have to understand, women nowadays are different, and Jan-"
If Tony were a lesser man, or probably a sober one, he'd flinch at the ice in Steve's voice. Because he's a slightly tipsy, very bored man, he's probably tap-dancing where angels fear to tread.
"Janet's known Hank for most of her adult life," he shrugs his shoulders. "She probably lost her virginity to him in a lab closet, stayed with him out of habit until it wasn't fun anymore. Fast forward to now, she's met you, she's attracted, she's having fun-"
Shit, Tony thinks. That's why he needs to have a glass in his hand. Giving advice to the love lorn is thirsty work. In for a penny, as Jarvis would say, in for a pound. Of course Jarvis would then snicker at the innuendo in the joke.
"Yeah, oh. Some kicks, some laughs, that's what some women want."
Steve looks at him now, his eyes softened by amusement, "and you know what they want, Stark? Can you say that after Romanov?"
As soon as the words slip out, Steve is sorry. Stark's face still holds the smile, but it's more sardonic than sincere. There's a lot going on underneath the expression, and Steve knows that what he's just said are fighting words, because Natasha didn't just take advantage of Tony, she stole something precious from him as well. He steels himself for the punch; he can give Tony that, especially since he knows that Tony won't go back on his word.
Tony moves away from him to the low standing coffee table where the Johnny Walker bottle is set.
"You know, at times I wonder if I should have an IV of Johnny Walker, instead of just drinking it by the shot glass," Tony says conversationally.
"I'd drink it by the bottle, but Jarvis …" Tony stops and stares, placing a finger against pursed lips. Steve is unsure if Tony is trying to compose himself, or if he's just wool gathering.
"I was out of line." That's the closest Steve can come to an apology. It's inadequate, and both men know it.
"No matter," Tony says, refilling his glass then holding it up in as a sort of salute. "I'll email you the schematics of the costume in two days-"
"I trust you."
"I'll engrave the lovely sentiment on a bottle of Johnny Walker Red or something," Tony stares at the tumbler. "Or my trusty shot glass. We'll speak soon. I'll send word via telegram or the Pony Express."
Steve knows enough of Tony to know that he's being a) needled and b) dismissed. He walks through the seating area, passes the LCD screen the size of a barn, and shrugs into his battered leather jacket (he bought it at a garage sale) and hides his hair under a baseball cap.
He turns around to tell Tony goodbye, only to find Tony seated on the sofa, steepled fingers against his mouth, eyes grim.
Steve stands at the door, not daring to move until Stark's eyes rest on him. It would be rude otherwise. So he waits until they do.
Tony nods, and Steve makes his way out, latching the door behind him.
A minute, an hour passes, and Tony eventually gets up and ambles over to the window, glass in hand. The mansion for the avengers should be finished in the next couple of days, and since he's sponsoring them now, he's taken it upon himself to find everyone suitable digs. His personal pent house is still … well. Still.
Tony's mind is a restless one, and he goes through tonight, thinking that he'd much rather have the boredom than the scab that Steve was able to pick at.
Rogers, he thinks, is still an asshole, and bloody naive to think that this thing with himself and Jan will end well.
There are a thousand things Tony Stark could tell Steve Rogers about this world, but knowing that Steve won't listen, he'll keep his mouth shut.
Tony slips the phone out of his pocket. The screen scrolls eleven pm. Manhattan. His city. Big city.
With that thought in mind, Tony heads towards the door, glass in hand.
The night's still young, after all.