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Friends in High Places

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Steven Daedalus was quite adamant that he was not a drunk. He liked to hang out in bars, he liked to get drunk, and he did both of those things frequently, but he didn’t see those things as personal problems that he needed to consider solving; he saw them as sources of personal entertainment and good stories to tell the next day. When he could remember the stories to tell them, of course…

Steven’s boss had never seemed to have a problem with this either – at the very least, he had never said a whole lot about it, and since Jack was a recovered alcoholic Steven had taken that as tacit approval that there was no problem. Today, though, he’d swung in at his usual time with his usual bi-weekly hangover and Jack had scowled at him like he’d just waltzed in two hours late on a Friday. “What?” he demanded defensively, noticing that Teddy was giving him an equally pissed-off look. “I’m on time and wearin’ pants, what?”

In response, Jack picked up a metal spoon and banged it hard against his very metal worktable; Steven almost screamed. “That,” Jack informed him, voice dripping acid. “That, Steven.”

Steven scowled back at him. “This is my usual bi-weekly hangover, what crawled up your arse and died today? You’ve never said anything before…”

“Yeah, and that was my mistake. Which I’m correcting today.” Steven just looked at him blankly, and Jack rolled his eyes. “Do you remember anything you did last night?”

“Nothin’ bad enough to make you pissed.” He considered it. “Got tossed out of a bar because some pretty boy didn’t like my manners – upscale place, they flagged down a cab instead of just tossin’ me out onto the sidewalk. Not like it’s the first time.”

Jack and Teddy traded a look Steven didn’t understand, and then Jack shook his head. “Yeah, yeah, I know,” he told Teddy. “Handling it now.” He grabbed Steven’s arm and hauled him across the kitchen. “Conference in the walk-in,” he called out. “Give us fifteen, everyone – maybe the cold will clear his head some.”

Steven let himself be shoved into the walk-in, shoes slipping a little on the metal floor because the non-skid mats were out being cleaned and dried. He caught his balance and glared at Jack, who just shrugged and closed the door behind them, sealing them into the cold, relatively soundproof metal box. “So all you remember about last night is getting kicked out of a bar because of a ‘pretty boy’, hmm?” He folded his arms across his chest. “It was a club, actually – small, upscale, kind of yuppie. Not your usual sort of place, although I know you’ve been in there off and on over the past month or so. Looking for someone, maybe? Like a pastry chef and his girlfriend who kicked your ass someone?”

Steven shook his head gingerly but emphatically. “She didn’t kick my ass, I tripped.”

Jack snorted. “Yeah, over your balls, apparently, if the way you were walking the next day was any indication. You might want to get that looked at by a doctor, they shouldn’t be dragging on the ground where people can step on them by accident.” He held up a hand when Steven started to make a sarcastic response. “Save it, everyone knows what actually happened, making up stories about it just makes you look stupider than you actually are. And with that in mind, I am going to make the instructions I’m about to give you very, very simple: Back off Seth, back off his ass-kicking girlfriend, and for God’s sake don’t start in on Jim if you run into him, either.”

“He stole our pastry chef! And I’m just messin’ with Seth…”

“You’re just about one more mess from becoming a statistic,” Jack snapped. “Scrounge up a few brain cells and rub them together, would you? Seth’s girlfriend is a regular at Haven, she goes there with her friends to have lunch. Now what kind of people frequent Jimmy’s ridiculously exclusive restaurant, Steven?”

Steven shrugged. “Rich people.”

“Powerful people,” Jack corrected. “Powerful, dangerous fucking people, which even if she isn’t one means she has powerful dangerous fucking friends. One of whom did not kick your ass last night when you showed up looking to try it again,” he raised a hand when Steven started to comment, “which I know about because he showed up here last night and told me to try to talk some sense into you before being a drunken asshole got you killed. Which was about when Teddy butted into the conversation and fell all over himself assuring the guy that we’d do our best to make sure you weren’t a problem in the future.” Steven looked puzzled, and Jack punched his arm hard enough to hurt him. “Your pretty boy? Captain fucking America, you idiot. Captain fucking America showed up here to complain about your behavior last night. Are you proud of yourself? You made a drunken ass out of yourself in front of a national icon – and he knew who you were, and he knew who I was and who Teddy was, and he knew where we all worked.” He cocked an eyebrow. “Getting the picture now? You just crossed the line between being a free agent when you’re not at work and dragging your stupidity back here to tarnish our professional reputations.”

Steven pushed back the dregs of his hangover to ruminate on that, rubbing his arm where Jack had hit him. A memory obligingly surfaced, albeit sluggishly, and he gave his friend a look. “Seems to me I remember you bein’ all for us havin’ a bit of fun with Seth…”

“Apparently my idea of fun and yours are two different things – trying to assault the guy’s girlfriend was not what I had in mind. Give him a hard time because he left us for Jim, yes; act like a loony stalker in front of an Avenger, no.”

Steven blinked at him. Now that he thought about it, that pretty boy had been pretty damned big. Strong, too. He’d asked if Steven was drunk or if he just needed a beating, and Steven had proudly told him that he was royally fucking drunk. At which point he’d been dragged out of the bar area like a naughty child and handed over to the club’s bouncers. “That was Captain America?”

Jack nodded, looking pinched. “Yes, that was Captain America. Who congratulated me on being ten years sober, by the way, and as near as I could tell actually meant it – Teddy apparently tells his cousin Todji just every little thing, and Todji goes out to ride motorcycles with the good captain every other weekend or so. And the captain lives in Stark Tower, now Avengers Tower, with Tony Stark and his girlfriend Pepper Potts.” He smiled, hard and nasty. “Guess who Pepper Potts does lunch with at Haven, Steven. Go ahead, guess.”

“Seth’s bloody girlfriend.” Steven wiped a hand down his face, wincing when his newly-bruised arm reminded him it was bruised. “Shit.”

“And you tracked it into my restaurant, yes. Thanks for that, appreciate it.”

Steven made a face. “Not like I knew, how would I have?”

“Not the point.” Jack shook his head. “Teddy had a talk with me last night, too. He was going to let you and I both hang ourselves out to dry after I didn’t listen to him the first time, he thought we both needed to learn our lesson the hard way, but he said that his cousin told him to tell us to back the hell off if we knew what was good for us. Because Seth’s girlfriend? Is also Todji Wong’s boss.”

“So Teddy…”

“Helped set the two of them up, yeah.” This time Jack made the face. “Part of me wants to kick his ass for not making me listen the first time he tried to explain why you and I needed to grow the fuck up, but me not listening isn’t his fault, it’s mine. And he was right, it is time for us to grow up – in fact, since we’ve both crossed the forty-yard line already, I’d say we’re probably waaaay overdue.” He looked Steven right in the eye. “No more coming in to work hung-over, no more partying all night every other night – and no more going anywhere near that particular club, got it? Because friends in high places don’t get much higher than the patrons of Haven 73.” Steven nodded jerkily. “Good. Now get back to work, I’ll do the same, and maybe if we both try hard enough we can bleach this skid mark off the restaurant’s shorts before anybody else sees it.” He stayed where he was, though, blocking the door, and dropped his voice. “And I had damned well better see you trying, Steven, because if I don’t…I’ll bounce you out of here so hard you’ll leave an ass-print on the sidewalk.”

Steven jerked like Jack had hit him again. “We’ve been friends how long? You wouldn’t…”

“I would.” Jack looked the taller man dead in the eye, and Steven almost flinched. “We are friends, Steven, but…you know, I thought I’d probably found every way to humiliate myself known to man, back when I was drinking, and I thought I was never going to feel that way again after I stopped. Last night I found out I was wrong about that, and I didn’t much like it.” He turned away. “This was your one and only warning. Never again.”

He left the walk-in without a backward glance, and Steven trailed out more slowly in his wake. He went to his locker and changed, then headed to his station to start prepping for lunch. When he passed Teddy Wong’s station, though, the Asian chef paused in his filleting of the fresh fish he had in front of him. “Be really, really glad it was the captain who caught you instead of the archer,” he warned in a low voice that stopped Steven in his tracks. “I have it on good authority that they’ve been taking turns hanging out at the club lately, almost like they were waiting to see if someone showed up to cause more trouble.” He glanced up, dark eyes even more intense than usual – which, since it was Teddy, was pretty fucking intense even from Steven’s jaded point of view. “I wouldn’t count on being that lucky again, I really wouldn’t.”

If Steven seemed sort of jittery for the rest of that night, his co-workers chalked it up to his hangover and getting chewed out by Jack, so nobody mentioned it. But his full-body shudder and panicked look when someone innocently asked if he wanted to hit the bar after work the next night provided fuel for the restaurant gossip mill for weeks. Who had known Jack could scare someone that badly? Maybe the ridiculous old rumors about him having been a contract killer when he’d first taken over Nolita were true after all…