Five o'clock in the afternoon was a quiet time for the Iron, the jewel in the admittedly somewhat tarnished crown of Tony Stark's empire. In the little dives peppered around the north side, workers coming off the day shift might be whispering passwords through doors and settling in for a beer, but you didn't get the roughneck crowd at the Iron. Things wouldn't pick up in the big, windowless underground room until eight or nine o'clock, when the glam girls and the rich boys began to flood through the big iron door, ready for some rough horn and the smoothest illegal cocktails anywhere in Chicago.
The quiet suited Tony, sitting in the back room of the bar and enjoying the fruits of some far-off distiller's labor. This particular batch was from a farmhouse down Indiana way -- Tony didn't usually hold with bathtub hooch but Banner had a knack for making whisky that didn't drive you blind and strong beer that came cheap. Tony assumed he'd maybe been some kind of brewmaster before Prohibition. He hadn't asked, and Banner hadn't volunteered the information on any of Tony's visits to check out the operation. Certainly Banner's farm produced about enough corn and hops for the drink, and mostly dust otherwise.
Tony sat back in the plush red chair, adjusted his silk tie and tugged on his waistcoat, ruby ring clicking against the thick glass he held in his hand.
"Jarvis," he said, and one of the men sitting around the table inclined his head. "You're up first."
Jarvis "English" Ayres-Ingraham, an expat Pepper had found for Tony somewhere, smiled his cool toothy grin and folded his hands.
"Well, we're paid up through the month, even the little places," he said. His eyes drifted upwards, as they usually did when he was employing his somewhat inhuman memory skills. "Your beer hall down on Clybourn, you really will have to speak to them, sir; the manager keeps trying to skim the payoffs for the police, and sooner or later they're going to get tired of having to count their cash every time they stop by."
"I've been checking his books," Pepper said. Her perfectly manicured nails tapped against the table. "He's nasty, Tony, I don't like him."
"Your word is law," Tony replied, smiling. "Nix him. Will he squeal if he's cut loose?"
"I don't think so," Jarvis replied. "I'd like to send the Hammer, though, just to be sure."
Tony glanced at Thor. Very few men squealed when they'd had a stern lecture on silence from the Hammer. Thor shrugged. "Not a problem."
"Done," Tony said. "Did the mayor get our campaign contribution?"
"Oh yes. He was pleased. No trouble there," Jarvis replied smoothly. "That said, the police commissioner's not all he ought to be."
"I heard something about this," Pepper murmured.
"Another anti-corruption campaign in the force?" Tony asked.
"Not entirely certain," Jarvis replied. "He's brought in some ringers from back east to fill out the ranks, however, and I thought it best to be informed."
"I've got rum-runners crossing the Canadian border, crossing state lines, hauling booze through the docks. I've got illegal workers unloading crates in half a dozen warehouses, I've got fifteen speakeasies this side of downtown and three under downtown itself," Tony said. "I cannot afford for the police to grab a thread."
"Hence the preparedness," Jarvis said smoothly. "I've had some of our people going over the new officers' information. I've made a few calls to New York, too. Most of them are known to the outfit there; they won't be a problem."
"There's one I can't get a handle on," Jarvis admitted. "A new detective in Homicide."
"Hard to say. Not much background on him. I'll provide Pepper with what I have. At any rate, we aren't in the murder business. He shouldn't give us much trouble."
"Get more on him," Tony ordered.
"Of course, sir."
"What's his name?"
"Rogers," Jarvis said. "Detective Steven Rogers."
There was a very dead man lying in the snow at the edge of Lake Shore Drive, between the road and the lake.
"First day on the job, sir?" the sergeant standing guard behind Steve asked.
"Yep," Steve said, staring at the body.
"Takin' it pretty well."
"Not exactly my first dead body," Steve replied.
"Not exactly a nice one, though, either," the sergeant pointed out. This was true. He hoped the guy still had his wallet on him, because what was left of his face was not going to help.
"None of 'em are nice," Steve replied. "Anyway, seen worse in the war."
He picked his way through the snow, careful to leave a straight trail to the body without disturbing anything, and crouched over it. Whoever he was, he'd been in the cold a long time; his skin was grey where it wasn't blue, and he'd taken a beating even before that.
"Bum, probably," the sergeant offered.
"Doubt it," Steve said. "These are some pretty fine threads. And..." he reached into the man's jacket, cautiously, and came away with a billfold. The frozen leather cracked as he forced it open. "C-note in here. You know many bums carryin' around a c-note?"
"Hell, I don't know many cops with that kind of cash," the sergeant said.
"I don't think so," Steve said sharply. The sergeant had the grace to blush. "So what was he doing out here in his bare feet, long enough the poor guy froze to death? He's forty feet from shelter. If he landed where he fell..."
He followed the line of the man's body. One of the big lakefront houses lay right in his sight-line. In the other direction, Lake Michigan glittered in the waning sunlight. It was a cold winter, bitterer than New York; the lake itself was frozen over, which Steve heard didn't often happen.
He tilted his head and squinted sidelong at the snow. A fresh inch had fallen last night, but it didn't look even -- indentations led away from the lake, and led to a conclusion he didn't like in the least.
"He came off the lake," he said.
"Shit, what?" the sergeant asked. Steve followed the shallow dents, down the bank to the ice. It was well thick enough to walk on.
"Why would he be on the lake?" Steve asked. "Someone took this man's shoes and dumped him on the ice. Far enough out that he froze to death before he reached help. Who'd do that?"
The sergeant looked grim. "Well, that c-note I ain't got says he's a rum-runner, then."
"Sure. Lake's been frozen for a month. Thick enough to get a car across it. Say you got a guy in Michigan City or up in Kenosha, best route to avoid...us, honestly, and fastest to get down here is to go across the ice. Two years ago a bootlegger went down on thin ice, truck and all. It ain't safe, but it's worth it if you get here in one piece. Top dollar for the good stuff."
"You think his truck went down? He got out?" Steve asked.
"Or..." Steve narrowed his eyes. "Someone else was on the ice. Knew bootleggers would be coming across it and hijacked him. Left him out there to die. That's a cold, hard way to kill a man."
"Most rum-runners don't exactly live to old age," the sergeant pointed out drily.
"Crook or not, he didn't deserve to die for it," Steve said. "Get the men canvassing the riverbank. Looking for tire tracks, heavy if it was a rum-runner."
"Won't find much in this snow."
"Well, it'll keep 'em busy at least. Call the coroner and get the body back -- hey!" Steve shouted, turning around. A man in a cheap suit was crouched over the body. "Who the hell do you think you are?"
A flashbulb popped.
"Get outta here, you're disturbing a crime scene!" Steve yelled, running back to the body and grabbing the man by the scruff of his neck. "I'll have you in the slam for this."
"Aw, c'mon, I got a job to do," the man complained. "Care to comment on who the deceased is, officer?"
"Detective to you. And no, the Chicago Police have no comment at this time," Steve said, wrestling the camera away from him. He popped the back and pulled out the film, to the man's cry of dismay. "Scram before I break the damn thing," he added, shoving it into his chest.
"That's harassing the press," the man said. "We got a right to report on what's happening in this town."
"You got a right to wear a pair of bracelets, you keep that up," Steve said, reaching for his cuffs.
"Fine, fine." The man held up his hands and backed away.
"Barton doesn't mean any harm," the sergeant said, as the reporter beat it. "Best crime reporter in the city. Had his life threatened eighteen times last year."
"By cops?" Steve asked.
"Nah! The gangs, mostly. That wouldn't be the first camera he got broke in the line of duty."
"Line of duty," Steve muttered. "Well, come on, let's get this guy loaded and sent off, he's not getting any warmer lying around here. Hey," he said, as the sergeant began rolling out the body bag. "You said people'd pay top dollar for the good stuff."
"Ain't you got good stuff in New York?"
"I'm new. Humor me. What people?"
"Anyone who's thirsty, I imagine."
Steve fixed the sergeant with a look. "Who're the top in this town?"
"Oh, well. Down south it's the Jews run everything, but they keep to themselves for the most part. Not sure who their boss is at the moment, there's been some internal strife, guess you'd say. The west, you got a split, Capone in the northwest -- Italians, you know -- and the Greek in the southwest. Ain't got no other name, just the Greek. And on the north side, well, that's all Irish territory. Wouldn't know it to talk to the boss though, his family's been in Chicago since it was Chicago. Tony Stark."
"Huh. Guess I'm going on a tour," Steve replied, but on a hunch he cracked open the billfold again. He flipped through it until he found what he was looking for -- he'd seen them in New York often enough. A membership card with no address, just a name: Tuxedo Club. There was a password carelessly scrawled on the back.
"Which of 'em owns the Tuxedo Club?" he asked, flipping the card around to show it to the sergeant.
"Stark," the man replied. "You gonna help me lift this body or not?"
Steve grabbed the legs, hefting the stiff corpse into the bag. He let the sergeant struggle with fastening it up. "You know where the Tuxedo Club is?"
"Not me," the sergeant replied. "Ain't my kind of joint."
"They say Potts runs it."
"Stark's right-hand girl. Hell of a dame. Legs up to here -- "
"I wasn't asking about her legs," Steve snapped.
"With legs like that, nobody needs to ask. Anyhow, you go nosing around the Tuxedo Club, folks might get the wrong impression."
"How's that?" Steve asked.
"It ain't for normal people," the sergeant said.
"You want to elaborate?"
"No sir, don't think I do," the man said, tapping the side of his nose. "I'll just be taking the body back now, sir," he said, and whistled for one of the men waiting by the car to help him. Steve sighed, tucked the card in his pocket, closed the billfold, and went to order some flatfeet around.
Chicago glittered at night, especially when the snow was out like this, still fresh enough to make everything pretty. It wouldn't melt for a while, either, Tony thought, standing on the roof terrace of the mansion he'd bought with, if he did say so himself, an impressive amount of lawbreaking.
Half a mile to the south, the Iron was roaring; once the party really started he'd left, trusting that his people would mind the shop while the boss played hooky. All over town, liquor was pouring out of his speakeasies and money was pouring in, but Tony had bigger things on his mind.
"So," said a voice from inside, and Pepper stepped out on the terrace, pulling her ermine coat tight around her to keep out the chill. "What are we brooding about tonight?"
Tony fixed a smile on his face and turned around, leaning on the rail. "Not a damn thing, doll," he said, crossing his arms. "Just enjoying my little kingdom."
"Hard to enjoy when you're not down in it," she replied. She had boots on under the ermine, and trousers; either coming from or going to a party, he thought. "Come to the Tuxedo tonight. Pick yourself up a shiny toy and have a good time."
"Not that kind of brooding."
"So you are brooding."
"Just thinking," he said. "You know, the Dems got in this year. Nobody loves Prohibition anymore. Our days as outlaws are numbered."
"I'd think you'd click your heels for joy. You'd love to sell legal liquor."
"Two years, maybe three, I suppose I could. I was thinking I should start closing up shop on the illegal side, though. Not completely, just pull in a little. Besides, the money's not rolling in quite the way it used to."
"We're in a depression, Tony."
"Which is the problem, isn't it? I close down the endless party and my people go begging on the street. There aren't jobs for bartenders and loaders and drivers. And I'm not about to reward my peoples' loyalty with soup kitchens and eviction."
"Find a new industry," Pepper suggested.
"No industry to be had," Tony answered. "It's gonna be a long one, Pep, I can tell. I'm good at the future. I got us here, didn't I?" he asked.
"Well, this boss doesn't see the end of the breadlines any time soon."
She kissed his cheek, then wiped the lipstick off with her fingers. "You'll think of something. You always do. Go into pictures. Move out to Los Angeles, get some warmth in your bones. There's jobs for your people in a place like that."
Tony grinned. "One long caravan of crooks and roughnecks headed to the coast?"
"Put 'em on a train," she said with a laugh. "We'll sleep on the beaches and bathe in the Pacific Ocean."
"Beats the lake."
"Beats it cold."
"Funny," Tony said.
"Well, I do my best." Pepper smiled. "1931's just a few weeks away. It's gonna be our year, I got a feeling about it."
"Every year's your year, Pep-me-up."
"Then it's a safe bet, huh?" she asked. "Come on. Come to the Tuxedo with me."
"You go. I'll drop by tomorrow."
"We've got the Mayor's dinner tomorrow."
"Fine, Friday night," Tony said. "Place should be hot by then."
"Well, don't stay up here brooding all night," she said. "You'll catch your death."
Tony held up a flask, shaking it gently.
"The things I put up with from you," she said fondly. "See you tomorrow afternoon."
"Wear something beautiful for the dinner."
"I'll polish my tiara," she said. "Good night, boss."
He almost stopped her as she went inside. Instead, he watched through the glass as she set the fur aside and pulled on a man's coat, stealing one of his fedoras to toss over her bobbed red hair.
It took Steve two days to find the Tuxedo Club.
In New York, he would have known who to ask or even just known where it was; he knew the lay of the land there. But New York wasn't a good place for him anymore, and he'd have to learn the landscape of Chicago sometime. This was his home now.
Besides, New York had never been the same after the war. Ghosts of dead friends lurked in the alleys. Memories of a childhood he'd just as soon forget filled half the streets. A clean break was a good break, and not just because it hadn't really been his choice.
"Where do you go to find a speakeasy in this town, anyway?" he'd asked his captain.
"Knock on a door till you find one," was the only reply he'd got. One of his fellow detectives, not exactly eager to help the rookie, told him to ask a librarian. The beat officers just snickered.
He could have gone to the Feds. Could have told them he had a password for the Tuxedo, and they'd have known where it was -- but they'd also have barged in to shut the place down, destroying the one slim lead to his victim. The man still didn't even have a name. And while Steve didn't like gangsters, he wasn't that nuts about Prohibition agents either.
So he'd done the only thing he could think of to do: gone out late at night, found a drunk, and shaken him down. The drunk didn't know where the Tuxedo was, but he pointed Steve to another of Stark's places, the Resilient, and Steve had a very satisfying fistfight with a doorman there until he caved and provided him with the address of the Tuxedo.
Well, the other guy took the first swing. Steve was honorable, but he wasn't a pushover.
By then it was two in the morning and Steve was nursing a split lip, so he went home and put himself to bed for a few hours.
When he got to the station around nine the next day, the coroner had a report ready on the body; he read the report, noted that the c-note had gone missing from the billfold while in Evidence, and took enough guff over the split lip that he left the precinct house early and went home to prepare for the evening.
He had the impression that the Tuxedo might be a pretty classy place. He didn't have much in the way of classy, but he brushed his hair and shaved, laid out his best suit, bought a quick meal from the diner down the street, and got himself a little sleep. Nobody who was anybody went out before nine, he knew that at least.
He hesitated while he was dressing, wondering if he ought to bring his piece; you didn't walk into a speakeasy as a cop and expect to walk out whole. If he didn't bring his badge, he'd get nothing in the way of anything -- but then again, if he did, he might just get shot. Finally he compromised: he tucked the gun in the back of his trousers where his jacket would hide it, and put his badge next to his wallet in his inside pocket.
The Tuxedo Club was an underground joint, the doorway set back from the street in a little three-corner courtyard off Division. As Steve watched from the shadows, a pair of young women in long coats snuck into the courtyard, whispered a word to a man standing at one edge, and were ushered down a staircase.
Well, no time like the present to try his luck.
He'd been in exactly two joints like this before. They weren't his beat in New York; both times he'd been on loan to another arm of the force, and he'd been on raids. Ugly business. Dangerous, too. Dark little holes, usually only full of drunks and trash by the time he got there, reeking of cheap liquor and the sweat of too many bodies in too small a place. So he murmured the password on the back of the card to the doorman, got a once-over and a nod, and strolled down the steps -- and braced himself for the smell as the door opened.
Instead, after a startled moment, he walked into a high-ceilinged room, dimly lit but open and airy, with a band crooning an easy, slow song from one corner.
His second thought, after the shock, was that there sure were a lot of dames in this joint.
Someone jostled past him with a glare, and he hastily stepped aside, taking his hat off. Not just women; women dancing with women. Women sitting at tables, heads bent together. One small knot of men in a corner, talking and laughing, and a few --
His breath caught.
"Hey, handsome," a man said, passing him on his way to the bar. "Stop standin' in the corner like a potted plant, buddy. Buy you a drink?"
"No, no thank you," Steve stammered, blinking. The man shrugged and walked on, apparently unconcerned.
Steve shuffled along the wall, avoiding the dancers, avoiding everyone's eyes, and settled at the very corner of the bar, closest to the door.
He was in so far over his head he couldn't even see daylight.
"What'll you have?" a voice asked, and he looked up into the face of a large bartender.
"I, ah," Steve said. "I'm looking for Miss Potts."
"You and everyone else in here, sweetheart," the man said, rolling his eyes. "She ain't buyin', and she definitely ain't buyin' what you're sellin'."
"I'm not sellin' anything," Steve said. "I just need to speak with her."
"And I'm tellin' you that's not going to happen. You want a drink or what?"
"We have some important business to discuss," Steve said, and risked a brief flash of his badge. The man's mouth hardened. Damn.
"We're paid up," he said.
"Not with me."
"If you mattered, we'd be paid up with you."
"Look, you can get me bounced and we can start something here, or you can point me to Miss Potts," Steve said. "I'm not here to give her a hard time."
"Well, she ain't here, so you're outta luck anyway. So you can start somethin' and get bounced and good luck getting any boys in blue to help you out, or you can have a damn drink and be the hell on your way."
Steve locked eyes with him. "In that case I'll wait. You serve anything legal in this joint?"
"You want to pay for a glass of seltzer water, it's your funeral."
Steve watched as the man made his way back down the bar to pour his drink, and he didn't miss the quiet words he exchanged with some of the men at the far end. Once he'd brought his water back and taken his coin in payment, one of the men broke off from the group and drifted his way up to Steve, settling on the stool next to his.
Not a man, Steve realized. A woman in a man's suit, with a short haircut and a dangerous look on her face.
"Looking for Miz Potts?" she asked, in thickly accented English. Russian, probably, or maybe Polish.
"Don't see what business it is of yours," Steve replied.
"You come here, ask for her, makes it my business."
"Well, then if it's your business, you can show me to her."
"Not here. You drink and get out."
"Not happening," Steve said firmly.
"Then I throw you out."
Steve gave her a once-over. "You could try, miss."
She was about to rise off the stool and take a swing, he could tell, and he really didn't want to fight a woman half his size, but an arm slid around her waist, pinning her in place.
"Natasha," a new voice said. "Are you making trouble?"
"Getting rid of trouble," Natasha said, suddenly sullen. The woman holding her -- gently, more of a reminder than any real restraint -- looked over her shoulder at Steve.
"This man bothering you?" she asked.
"Bothering you," Natasha replied. "You want Miz Potts?" she asked, and gestured at the woman behind her. "You find her. Now I throw you out."
"Be nice," the other woman chided. Steve took her in. So this was Miss Potts, who ran the Tuxedo Club. A club for people who, as the sergeant had so delicately put it, weren't normal. "And you are?" she asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Someone with some questions for you," Steve said. "Detective Rogers, Miss. Homicide."
Both her eyebrows went up at that. "Going to arrest me, copper?"
"Not if I can help it," he said.
"Good. Then Natasha can put away her knife," Miss Potts replied, and Steve saw Natasha roll her eyes. But he also saw her hand move slightly.
Ah. Not quite so harmless as he'd thought. A bad thing to underestimate, a woman with a knife.
"Skedaddle, darling, I'll come find you when we're done," Miss Potts said firmly.
Natasha went, reluctantly, and Miss Potts slid gracefully onto the stool she'd vacated, smoothing her white silk dress and crossing her legs. "What can I do for the Chicago Police, Detective?"
Steve took the Tuxedo Club card out of his pocket and set it on the bar. "I got that off a dead man two days ago."
She frowned, eyeing it. "Detective Rogers, I don't know how they do things in New York -- "
"Excuse me?" he asked.
" -- but here in Chicago, a lot of people drink a lot of places," she finished smoothly, then gave him an arch smile. "You learned about me awful quick; you think we didn't learn about you?"
He wasn't sure how to reply to that, so he tapped the card with his finger. "I think the man I got this from was a driver for you. A rum-runner of some kind, anyway."
"What happened to him?" she asked.
"Well, if what we think is true, he was driving on the ice out on the lake," he said. "Someone hijacked him, took his shoes, and left him to die there."
She covered her mouth with one hand.
"He made it to shore, barely, and froze to death," Steve continued. "We don't even know his name. And since this and a hundred bucks was pretty much everything we found on him, I'd like to know if you can help me out."
She let her hand fall. "Or what, you'll close us down?"
"I should. But it's not really my job. I just want to know who the fella is, and who might've gone to all that trouble for a single truck full of rotgut."
She tilted her head, considering him. He waited patiently. He knew the look; she knew something, at least, and was just deciding whether to tell him.
"You should talk to Mr. Stark," she said finally. "I manage his social affairs and this club, but he handles the liquor. He'll know if one of his boys has gone missing."
"So pass me to Stark," he said. "If you keep his calendar, put me on it for tomorrow morning."
"I don't think that will be necessary," she said smoothly. A professional dame, for sure. "He came in with me just now."
She turned on the stool, twisting to sweep the room. "There he is," she said, pointing halfway down the bar. There was a man in a waistcoat, back to them, talking to a cigarette girl. "Oh, and Detective Rogers?" she said, as he nodded and stood. "Make trouble here and I will make your life miserable as only a woman knows how."
"Ma'am," he said with a nod, and made his way down the bar.
There was a crowd around Stark, which he supposed he should have expected. Men and women both, chatting with him, waiting to chat with him, for all Steve could tell just basking in his reflected glory. One of the top bootleggers in Chicago -- but from this angle he didn't look like very much. A trim man in an expensive suit, jacket slung on the bar carelessly, sleeves rolled up.
"Excuse me," he said. "Mr. Stark."
Stark turned, gracefully avoiding elbowing about three people, and looked up at him. Close-to, and facing him now, he was -- compelling, somehow. High cheekbones, sleek black hair, a neatly trimmed goatee, and blue eyes that looked much, much more intelligent than expected. And a sense of easy power in his movements, like he was born for command.
Stark's eyes slid down the bar to Miss Potts, who gave him a nod. He flicked his fingers, turning to the crowd.
"Okay, freeloaders, scram," he said. "Go on, I have no time for you right now, get out of here. Are you kidding me?" he asked one man, who lingered. "Go. Playtime is over. Entertain yourselves, I am not your organ grinder. Shoo. Daddy's doing business. Hello," he added, as the crowd spread out, an empty space forming discreetly around them. "You are a policeman."
"Your redheaded Russian tell you that?" Steve asked. Stark laughed.
"If you think I can't spot a cop from fifty paces, you are underestimating me," Stark replied. "And she's not my redheaded Russian."
"She works for you, doesn't she?"
"I decline to answer that question without a lawyer present," Stark said, sitting back. He tilted his face up, body relaxed, angled against the bar like it was built for him. "Pull up a stool, have a drink."
"No, thank you," Steve replied. "You're right. We do have business to discuss."
"I never do business sober. You don't mind...?" Stark asked, holding up his glass.
"I do, actually."
"Well, arrest me," Stark said, with a challenging look, like he actually expected it.
"Not my job," Steve told him. "I'm here about a murder."
"I have an alibi," Stark replied.
"You don't know when it happened."
"No, but I know I didn't kill anyone, so..." he gestured with his free hand. "Tony Stark, by the way, but you seem to know that already."
"Detective Rogers, Homicide," Steve said.
"Is that what they're calling me?"
"Well, you did come in from New York and now you're here making trouble after less than a week, so." Stark tilted his head. "What's a war hero like you doing in a place like this, Detective?"
"Word travels fast."
"I make it a point to be informed."
He should be asking about the body; he should be asking about the bootlegging. But there was something irresistible in the challenge.
"And what does your information say?" Steve asked, crossing his arms.
Stark was silent for a moment, and then he seemed to spring to life.
"Steven Rogers, a New York boy, joined the army and went to war," he said, a small smile on his face. "Captain Rogers. They called you Captain America, didn't they? A real hero, with the newsreel smile. And then after Armistice, you came home. Few years ago you joined the New York police as a detective, and five days ago you moved to Chicago. How am I doing so far? But," he added, before Steve could answer, "what really interests me is the fact that you came home in '19 and joined the force in '27. And that means there are eight years where you just didn't exist. So my question is, where were you all those missing years, Captain?"
"Detective," Steve corrected.
"Eight years. Where did you spend those eight years?"
Steve kept his face blank. "On ice."
"Sounds like a fascinating story."
"Some other time." Steve offered him the Tuxedo Club card. "Because, see, my question is, why did I find this on a corpse two days ago?"
Stark turned the card over in his hands. "Well, whoever he was, he was a jerk. Wrote the password on the back? Really?"
"We think he was one of your drivers."
Stark went still and tense in an instant.
"We don't even have a name for him," Steve said. "I was hoping you could give me one."
"Not here," Stark replied, pushing off the stool and past him. "Follow me."
Steve, feeling the reassuring weight of his gun against the small of his back, trailed Stark through the crowd, to a door at the far end of the room. There were a handful of people inside, playing cards, the room thick with cigar smoke. Stark snapped his fingers and pointed at the door.
"You like showing off your power, don't you?" Steve asked, as the room's occupants disappeared.
"Shouldn't I? I earned it."
"You'd lose," Stark replied, closing the door. "What makes you think he was one of mine?"
"Not a lot," Steve admitted. "Just the card in his pocket. We think he was smuggling liquor across the ice. Someone got to him, left him there to die, took his car. He froze to death on the bank. Forty feet from light and warmth. Now I don't know how dear you hold human life, Mr. Stark, but that's a particularly brutal thing to do in my book. And I'd be willing to bet if he wasn't one of yours, you can tell me whose he was."
Stark poured himself a drink from a bar in one corner. "Sure I can't tempt you?"
"Your loss." He threw the drink back and set the glass down. "One of my shipments never came in. I figured the snow held him up. Tall guy. Snappy dresser. Dark hair. Always wore nice wing-tip shoes."
"They took his shoes."
"Son of a bitch," Stark said. "I tell you who he is, you think you can catch the bastards?"
"Don't know. Tell me and we'll find out."
"You need to see a slightly bigger picture," Stark said.
"I don't know the names of most of my drivers. I don't even know the names of some of my suppliers. This is an industry, Captain, not a café."
"I like Captain better. There are hundreds of people involved in this. The drivers bring the product from the suppliers to me, and by 'me' I mean the warehouse workers who unload the trucks and the foremen who distribute the product to the...well, places like this," he said, gesturing towards the door. "The bartenders serve it, and the managers manage them. They report to my people, who report to me."
"And your hands stay nice and clean," Steve said.
"They've been dirty enough in the past. So nine men in ten I wouldn't be able to name for you. You'd need to talk to the warehouse foremen, who might or might not know. But there's always that tenth guy. The guy I know because I like his car -- I like cars, did you know that? Nuts about them, and the faster the better. Or the guy I know because he's showed some extra guts and deserves a little extra in his pocket. Or," he said, and turned to look Steve square in the eye, "the guy I know because once a year he brings me the best blue-label scotch it's possible to get, the stuff I serve to my guests at a frankly infamous New Year's Eve party I happen to host. Hell knows where he gets it, but he gets it, and in weather like this he'd think driving it over the lake was a good joke. Stuff like he was hauling, well, if you're going to hit just one car driving just one shipment of product, that's the one to hit."
"That's a fine big picture," Steve said. "But I still need a name."
"Joe," Stark said. "Joe Yinsen. Your people should have a file on him; it'll tell you some of what you need to know. And that big picture ought to help you out, huh?"
"I can think of a few angles," Steve said. Stark stepped closer.
"Listen to me," he said in a low, dangerous voice. "Yinsen was a decent guy and he had a fast car. I liked him. My people matter to me whether I know their names or not. So if you find out who killed him, and if you tell me before you tell whoever it is you tell these things, you will be personally owed a favor from a very powerful man in this city. And his killer will be handled."
"What kind of man do you take me for?" Steve asked.
"The kind of man who left New York for reasons nobody will talk about," Stark answered.
"That doesn't mean I'd let you get first crack. You might be powerful, Mr. Stark, but you're not the law."
"Yeah, says me," Steve replied, not backing down an inch. "So when I catch him, the law gets him."
"Unless I get to him before you do."
"You think I wouldn't bring you in for murder?"
"I think you'd find out the kind of enemy I can be."
"When it comes down to it," Steve said, "you're a bootlegger. Joe Yinsen died because he was bringing you illegal hooch. You don't own Chicago, and you can pay off as many cops as you like but there are some of us you don't own either. That's an awful nice suit, Mr. Stark, but it's just a suit. Take away all this and what do you have?"
"More money than you'll ever see, and the respect and adoration of thousands. Whereas the only special thing about you is a badge."
"Sure," Steve said. "But it's a badge you ain't got."
Stark gave him a feral grin. "I do like your guts, Captain Rogers."
"Thank you for your help," Steve said. "I'll see myself out."
"Come back anytime," Stark said, as Steve opened the door. "After all, you know the password."
Rogers lit out of the place like his ass was on fire, but Tony didn't put that up to his own intimidating presence; the guy was too new to understand just how much power Tony had. He figured he was just intimidated by the clientele.
Pepper and Natasha were still at the bar, deep in conversation, but when he emerged from the back room Pepper's head lifted and she gave him a questioning look.
"What'd you do to the poor kid?" she asked.
"He's just unhappy I asked him to send the murderer to me instead of to the law," Tony replied.
"It was one of ours?"
"Joe Yinsen. Good man. Did not get what he deserved," Tony said.
"Well, you've made an enemy for life," Pepper replied.
Tony grinned. "No. He'll be back."
"He liked the fight. And he eyeballed the patrons but he didn't bring it up, which is interesting."
"Bet you I know why they run him out of New York," Natasha said.
"I bet you do," Tony answered.
"You want I tail him?"
"No. You and I have other business tomorrow," Tony said. "Yinsen was an Indiana boy. Tomorrow we'll go to South Bend, see what we can find."
"And the cop?"
"I imagine we'll see him there, if he's worth a damn. And if he isn't, well, we'll get whoever knocked Yinsen off before he can." Tony ruffled Pepper's hair. "You two have a good night. Tasha, tomorrow at eight."
"Be good," Tony said. "Or be very, very bad."
Pepper tossed her hair. "Yes, boss."
In theory, Steve should have waited for the following morning to look up Joe Yinsen in the archives of the Chicago PD. In practice, well, he'd learned a lot of skills as a kid and one of them was picking the kind of lock you found on the door of the archives room.
So he'd found the file on Yinsen and in the still, dusty silence of the archives at eleven at night he'd read the slim information that the police had on him. A known rum-runner, hauled in half a dozen times but only convicted once; there weren't any notes about Tony Stark in the file, but if you knew where to look his hand was all over Yinsen's life. How many people's lives in this town did Stark control? How many families depended on his payroll to put food on the table? And more importantly, how many went hungry when their bootlegging fathers or husbands or brothers died?
Because men did die in this occupation. Women too, he thought, remembering the knife of Natasha's that he'd never actually seen. Stark could start a war over Yinsen, if one of his competitors had knocked him off.
He took the first morning train to South Bend the following day.
The landlady of Yinsen's boarding house wasn't much help; she liked him, said he was clean and quiet, often gone for days at a time. But she didn't know what work he did, and didn't ask. His room didn't give many clues either; a couple of newspaper clippings on the walls, a book about automobile repair on the shelf, and some clean, well-patched clothing. That was all.
He stepped out into the crisp Indiana winter day wondering what he should do. The next train back to Chicago wasn't for an hour yet, and Yinsen had at least lived and done some kind of business in this town. Finding a speakeasy in a strange burg was tough, but finding a distillery? He might as well go spit.
"Hey, cop!" someone called, and Steve stopped, looking around. Nobody on the street, or at least nobody who looked like they'd called for him.
"Over here, copper!" The second call, in a different voice, came from a nearby alley; Steve sauntered over and then ducked into it, hand on his gun at his hip.
"Boy, are you jumpy," said the second voice, and Steve looked down.
Two kids were standing next to a can of trash, arms crossed, chins raised in identical attitudes of defiance. The younger, smaller one was dark-skinned, in a black sweater a size too big for him; the older was white, and had a red newsie cap on his head, which matched the greasy red coat he wore.
"Can I help you boys?" he asked.
"You're lookin' for news 'bout Yinsen, aintcha?" the older boy asked. "Guy who got whacked up in Chicago?"
"Sure. How'd you know about him?"
"We know everything," the younger one said.
"Do you now. You know where Yinsen worked?"
"Sure," the younger said. "But you're a cop. Can't lead you to no still."
"Are you for real a detective?" the older asked.
"Detective Rogers," Steve said, showing his badge. The younger one snatched it and studied it with the air of an expert. "Who are you?"
"We're the spiders," the older one said. "They call us that on account of we see everything."
"So you say."
"I'm Peter. My aunt May runs the boarding house," the older said. "This here's Miles."
"Pleased to meet you. If you weren't gonna help me, why'd you whistle me up?" Steve asked.
"Wanted to see your badge," Miles said, an impudent grin on his face.
"Want to be a cop when you grow up?" Steve asked.
"Nah! Imma be a reporter," Peter said.
"Figures," Steve muttered, taking the badge back from Miles.
"We liked Yinsen," Peter continued. "But you're a cop."
"So you see we got what you might call a mo-ral di-lemma," Miles added.
"Listen, boys, I'm just looking for information on who might have known him," Steve said. "Gimme a lead and I'll buy you a candy bar."
The boys exchanged a look of skeptical amusement.
"I'm not a Prohibition agent. I know he was a rum-runner. I just want to know who knocked him over for his haul," Steve said.
"We can show you where he picked up his stuff," Peter said. "But you gonna hafta get in on your own."
"We got a reputation to keep," Miles said.
"Fine. You two lead the way, and I won't ask you to make any introductions."
Peter held up his hand. Miles looked at him, then mimicked the gesture. Steve rolled his eyes and dug in his pockets, producing twenty cents.
"You two run off with this, you're welchers," he said, placing a dime in each palm. "Now, lead the way."
They took off down the alley, and Steve followed with a mixture of amusement and caution. Neither boy turned to see if he was following until they'd gone five or six blocks, and then Peter jumped up and grasped a windowsill, pulling himself up to perch on it, while Miles darted around a corner and vanished from view.
"That place there," Peter said, nodding at a nondescript building across the street, which said SOUTH BEND FOUNDRY on the side. "Remember, you ain't never seen us."
"Scram on outta here then," Steve replied, and Peter jumped sideways off the sill, landing lightly on a set of steps and scuttling away.
Steve was turning to the foundry, pondering how to make his move, when he saw a door open in the side of the building.
And Tony Stark strolled out.
Steve was tempted to duck back into the shadows and watch where he went, but duty overrode common sense. He crossed the street and reached Stark's car -- a looker like that had to be his -- at the same time Stark did.
"Well, if it isn't the Captain," Stark said. "Fancy meeting you here."
"You should keep out of police business," Steve said.
"I'm just paying a visit to some friends. Why, what are you doing here?"
"You know damn well what, Stark," he said, just as Natasha joined Stark at the car. "Not your Russian, huh?"
"Trust me," Stark said drily.
"Whoever killed Yinsen should be arrested and tried."
Stark crossed his arms, studying him over the hood of the car. "You know they'll never let you in there with a badge. And they won't let you in without someone to vouch for you, either. This is what you call a dead end, Captain."
"We'll see about that."
"Why do you care so much about a dead rum-runner?" Stark asked. "I know why I do. But you? Isn't he just another crook to you? It's like your pals on the force say -- let 'em kill each other and sweep up the bodies."
"If they're saying that, they're not my pals."
Natasha leaned over and whispered something in Stark's ear.
"Tell you what," Stark said, as she climbed into the driver's seat of the car. "It's freezing out here and I'm parched. There's a cafe down the road does a nice cuppa joe. Have a coffee with me and let's bang this out before one of us shoots the other, huh?"
"Are you trying to bribe me?" Steve asked.
"With a cup of coffee? Please. Walk with me. I'll make it worth your while with information," Stark said.
Steve pinched the bridge of his nose. "You aren't the sort to be warned off, are you?"
"Not even a little." Stark started down the block at a stroll, hands in the pockets of his coat, and Steve sighed and followed.
"Mind you," Stark continued, as they walked, "I didn't expect you to get here so soon. You might be more valuable than I gave you credit for. Your heart and head are in the right place, I suppose. That warehouse is a still, sure enough, but it's not where my blue-label came from and they only know Yinsen as the guy who picks up what they're doling out. He never drinks in this town, so they told me. He saves that up for when he gets to Chicago. So the question is--"
"Who knew he was picking up the stuff, and where'd he get it from?" Steve asked. Tony nodded, elbowing open a door and gesturing him inside. A warm gust of coffee-scented air hit him as he walked in. They sat at a little table in a back corner, Stark's back to the wall, and a waitress sauntered over with a questioning look.
"Coffee, cream." Stark said. "Rogers?"
The waitress gave him a sweet smile as she left.
"Guess we know who's getting the good stuff," Stark said, amused.
"Hm?" Steve asked.
"Never mind. So! We have three problems," Stark said, fingers dancing over the silverware on the table, the sugar dish, the saltshaker. "First problem is, where'd he get it? Second problem is, who knew?"
"What's the third problem?"
"Third problem is neither of us is gonna let the other one take the wheel," Stark said. "I'm not backing down, and you're apparently constitutionally incapable of it. So let's come to some kind of agreement. I want to know what you know. I'm willing to tell you what I know to get it."
"How do I know that's true?"
"You don't. But you're no dummy. You know I've got more information than you. And you've got more power than me. So why not work together?" Stark asked.
"Because if we find the killer, you're going to shoot him and dump him in the river."
"Fair. Fair," Stark admitted. "But only because I know how corrupt the courts are."
Steve tilted his head. "You can fix the courts any way you like."
"In which case the whole justice system does seem like a sham, doesn't it? But no. I can't. Because I have competitors who also have an interest. And some of them are willing to do things I'm not."
"Like kidnap judges' daughters. Break their kneecaps. I'm not the monster you think I am. I don't like violence and if money can't buy it then I resign myself to not getting it, or I find some other way."
"You think some rival sponsored this theft? Someone with that kind of power?"
Stark regarded him calmly as their coffee arrived.
"I'll make you a deal," Stark said, finally. "If we get him, you can give him the trial your duty demands. If he goes free, you deliver him up to me."
"You look the other way while I -- "
Stark blew air through his teeth. "Work with me here, Captain."
"If you can't call me Detective, call me Steve," Steve said. "It's my name."
"Interesting," Stark said. "All right, Steve. If the good Detective Rogers brings in a man he can prove murdered my guy, and the courts don't agree, will Steve let Tony take a crack?"
It was wrong. Ethically, legally wrong. It was one more little crack in the armor of his duty and his oath to the law.
But it felt right. Because yes -- if the courts could be swayed, then what was the point of his badge in the first place?
And despite his better judgment, he liked Tony Stark. He liked a man who didn't screw around. And he liked the sound of a gangster who didn't like violence.
Didn't hurt that the man was easy on the eyes, either, a small voice inside him said. He tamped it down hastily.
"All right," he said quietly. "You got yourself a deal. Tony. But if I find out you're holding out information or sneaking around like this, when you know something that could help the case, deal's off and I'll have you in jail for obstructing justice."
"I knew we could reach a compromise," Tony said brightly.
"So you got any ideas about our first two problems?" Steve asked.
"Not yet, but I will by the end of the day. In the meantime," Tony sipped his coffee, a blissful smile crossing his face, "have a cup and take a load off."
"Where'd the Russian go?"
"Off to find me those leads you asked for. And she's not Russian; she's an American citizen."
"You shouldn't underestimate Natasha. She's a survivor. Came here to get away from the Revolution in '17. Started out as a dock worker in one of my warehouses after a couple of years of god-knows-what. Runs most of the warehouse end now. That woman's the American dream, sure as you or I are."
"But she's not yours?"
"Nah. She's Pepper's girl."
"Your secretary has a secretary?"
Tony grinned. "No. She's Pepper's girl. They're an item."
Steve blinked at him. "That's awfully forthright of you."
"Everyone knows, but nobody says. I'm a sayer. You can't touch them, so why should they, I, or you care if you know?"
"And you don't mind?"
"None of my business."
"That club Miss Potts runs."
"Inverts, perverts, deviants, and squares looking for adventure," Tony replied around another sip of coffee. "Rethinking shutting it down?"
"No. Folks shouldn't be interfered with like that."
"And yet you're a copper."
"Well, there's not much else work for an old soldier," Steve said.
"Those eight years you went missing say differently."
"Knock it off, Stark."
"Fine. Knock it off, Tony."
Tony shrugged. "If you say so. Answer me a question, though. Do you think Prohibition's right?"
"Doesn't matter. It's the law."
"Don't be an idiot."
"I think a lot of innocent folks get hurt on account of others breaking it. Don't know whether that means it's a bad law or not. I'm no lawyer. No philosopher either."
"But do you, Steve, Captain Detective Rogers, think it's right?"
Steve set his coffee down. "My father was a drunk. I never blamed the alcohol for what he did when he was drinking; seemed to me it was him doin' it, not the bottle. Truth be told, I think it'd make more sense to lock up folks for the things they blame on the drink than to lock up the drink. But it's not my call to make."
"It's a democracy, Steve. It's everyone's call to make. And until democracy catches up with you and me -- "
"We're not the same."
"No. That'd be horribly boring. But until the law sees sense, you'll have to excuse my breaking it."
"I don't actually have to do that," Steve pointed out.
"Well, until we catch the man who killed Yinsen, you're going to at least have to tolerate it," Tony said with a smile. "You never know. Running with me and mine might do you some good, Captain America."
"It's been a long time since that was my name."
"People have long memories." Tony slugged back the rest of his coffee. "I have work to do here, and you have a train to Chicago. Come by the Tuxedo tomorrow for lunch. I'll let you know where today took me."
"Let's get this straight, Tony," Steve said, standing. "I'm not one of your people. I'm not on your payroll and you don't tell me what to do. You got connections here, that's fine; I'll see you tomorrow to find out what you know. But once this is done I won't be your pet cop."
"Wouldn't dream of it," Tony said, and smiled as Steve tossed down a couple of coins to cover coffee and a tip. "See you tomorrow, Steve."
Steve made it to the station in time to catch the noon flyer to Chicago. As the train pulled away, he noticed Peter and Miles sitting on the roof of the station, legs dangling off the edge. They waved a couple of Chick-O-Stick bars at him before the train disappeared around the bend.
When Steve came into the station house that afternoon, the annoying photographer from the crime scene was sitting at his desk.
"What do you think you're doing?" Steve asked, tugging a confidential file out of his hands.
"Keeping myself amused," the man said brightly. "Don't worry, I'm very discreet."
"That's it," Steve said, and grabbed him by the collar of his shirt, lifting him off the desk.
"Wait -- ow! What are you doing -- " the man yelled, as Steve half-marched, half-carried him towards the cells at the other end of the precinct.
"Throwing you in jail. Don't worry, you'll get a lawyer," Steve said. "What's your name? Barton, isn't it?"
"Let go'a me!" Barton cried. Heads raised all over the station house. Faint laughter followed them.
"I don't know why nobody showed you the inside of a cell before, but I got no time for you," Steve said, shoving him through the door and into the holding block. "Hey! Duty Officer!"
"Hiya, Barton," the uniform on desk called. "Told you not to go buggin' the rookie."
"You got a cell I can slam the kid in?" Steve asked, still holding Barton by his collar, evading his twisty grabs at Steve's lapels.
"Aw, c'mon, he doesn't mean any harm," the officer said.
"I have had just about enough of how nobody in this burg means me any harm," Steve retorted. "I got a corpse crawling off the Lake Michigan ice, a gangster tryin'a buy me coffee, and this lunk nosing around my desk. So guess what?" he asked, turning Barton to face him. "You get to be my whipping boy."
"I can help you, ya know," Barton said, twisting in his grasp. "I know things!"
"You remind me of a fella I met this morning," Steve said.
"Yeah? You meet any reporters down in Indiana?"
"No, but I did meet an awful sneaky ten-year-old kid," Steve said, tossing him down. Barton landed on his feet and dusted himself off, looking sulky. "You got a count of ten to get yourself out of a charge of tampering with police evidence, and you can start with how you knew I was in Indiana this morning."
"Shoot," Barton said, straightening his cuffs. "A body's always big news. I followed ya down to the station. Didn't fancy a ride to the back end of nowhere so I asked the clerk where your ticket was going. Say, tell me the stiff's name and I'll make sure your picture gets in the paper."
"What on God's green Earth makes you think I want my picture in your damn paper?" Steve asked.
"Easy, Detective, if you're the humble type that's fine too," Barton said. "You could use a guy like me, though. The dirt I dig up in this town you couldn't spot with a magnifying glass and a map."
Steve crossed his arms, considering the man. "You know of any reason I should trust the discretion of a newsman?"
"Plenty. Mostly that I know the difference between on and off the record, and I ain't dead," Barton replied. "Go on. Ask me anything."
The officer on desk was watching with open fascination. Steve hauled Barton along by the shoulder, down to the other end of the room where the cells were empty.
"Tell me what you know about Stark," he said. Barton barked a laugh.
"Come on, ask me something hard," he said.
"I hear your camera gets broke an awful lot -- "
"Fine!" Barton groaned. "Fine. What do you want to know?"
"Pretend I don't know a thing -- and don't give me any lip," Steve added.
"Stark the bootlegger? Runs most of the north side. You got your booze, little bit 'a gambling; no dope, though, and he doesn't like trouble. You were in the war, weren'tcha?"
"Then you probably carried a Stark rifle. His pa made a pile makin' guns for the government during the war. Died before Prohibition set in. There's an old crack that Stark senior'd rather die than give up booze."
"What happened to the weapons?"
Barton shrugged. "Stark stopped makin' them."
"Dunno. Some say it's because he did a tour over in Germany and didn't like what he saw. Others say he started running booze at a better profit. Guess he does all right by it, given he made a bigger pile than his old man ever did."
"So what's his scandal?"
"How do you mean?"
Steve narrowed his eyes. "With a man like him, there's always a few scandals."
"Well, everyone knows he's got the mayor in his pocket but he can't get your boss for love or money. Someone's already got the commissioner."
"Jesus, Mary, and Joseph," Steve muttered.
"Better you find out now," Barton said, giving him a friendly clap on the arm. Steve glared. "Annnny-how, why ya wanna know about Stark? Planning a morals campaign?"
"None of your business, and none of the public's, either."
"I gotcha. Now what does all this get me in return?"
Barton nodded. "Suppose that's a square deal. But you might consider calling me first when you get your case all tied up. I'll be sympathetic. And I got a great eye with a camera."
"You got an eye for something, all right," Steve said. "Get out of my precinct. I see you back here again without an escort, we're gonna have more problems than a little information can solve."
Barton gave him a grin, saluted, and ducked out the side door.
Steve made a mental note to see about a new lock for it.
Sunday morning found Tony in a pew at Holy Name, with Pepper and Natasha to his left, Thor on the aisle to his right, and half his close associates scattered around the rest of the building. It always amused him how many would-be lieutenants showed up to prove to the boss they were good, churchgoing gangsters. Nobody in Chicago looked more pious than the Irish Catholic mob, unless it was the Italians. And nobody looked more Irish, whether he was or not, than the black-haired, blue-eyed Stark boy with the pretty redhead on his arm.
"If I go to church on Sunday, and a cabaret on Monday..." he sang under his breath, and Pepper elbowed him. The service had yet to start, and she might not be the most spiritual woman ever graced the Earth -- something of a scarlet woman if it came to that, not that she'd ever worked for money or needed to -- but she didn't approve of blasphemy in a church.
"You look magnificent," he said in her ear, to make up for it.
"Thank you," she replied, turning to give him a narrow look. "You look like you're up to something. How did your fishing expedition go yesterday?"
"Could've caught bigger. Nobody knows nothing, even when I'm the one doing the asking. Natasha had fun, though. And we ran into that cop again, Rogers."
"I think that was the fish you were going for, wasn't it?"
"You wound me. I have genuine heartfelt reasons for investigating, Pepper, I am not so low I'd use a man's murder to hook a fish like him."
"Hm, but you're not above taking advantage of the situation if it pops up."
"Well, I'm only human."
"Nice to hear you admit it before God," she replied, turning to face front again. "Watch yourself with him, Tony. There's nothing more dangerous than an honest cop."
"Especially to himself."
"You're playing with fire."
"My favorite kind of play. Nah, he and I have a deal on. We help each other with the case, and when we catch the bastard who did this -- "
"Tony, we're in church."
"When we catch the child born out of wedlock who did this, Rogers and the courts get first crack. But, if he's not found guilty, I get him. And there's nothing Rogers can do about it."
"You sure you can trust him?"
"Like you said. He's an honest cop."
"Or pretending to be one."
"Well, pick a side, Pepper my own, you can't have it both ways."
She rested a hand on his. "I just worry about you. You know that."
"I do, and thank you, but I'm handling it just fine," Tony said, as the service began.
"I still miss Orthodox church," Natasha said, from Pepper's other side. "Not enough demons in this one."
Steve had tried to go to church a few times, when he got back to Brooklyn after the war. He hadn't had a whole lot of faith left in God, to be honest, but he'd thought he ought to try. He went to his old parish church for a few weeks, but it was hard. Half the women there looked at him like they didn't know why he was there when their sons weren't anymore, and a fair number of folks just looked at him with pity, because they knew (except they couldn't really ever know) what he'd been through in the war. He gave it up, eventually, and found he and God had got on just fine for the last ten years or so without a preacher getting in the way.
So on Sunday he praised the Lord by getting a few extra hours of sleep, and went downstairs to eat breakfast with his landlord, an elderly Jewish man who'd come over from Poland forty years ago and still referred to Chicago as "my new home."
He mooched around for most of the morning, reading the paper, watching people pass on the street below his window. He wondered what Tony could have found in South Bend, and what a guy like him had done to find it. He didn't admire him, exactly -- he knew that even if you didn't like violence you didn't run rum in a burg like Chicago without getting your hands a little dirty -- but Tony had something. Panache, maybe, but with brains to back it up. There was something in him that Steve liked. Obviously, he supposed, or else he wouldn't have agreed to this deal with the devil.
He had clever hands, Tony Stark. Clever eyes. Steve had seen a lot of bootleggers and gangsters in his time, in the papers and occasionally -- though not often -- in the precinct house in New York. They controlled people through fear and raw shows of power, and they weren't very...self-aware, by and large. Ruled by ego. It was always what brought them down.
Tony was different. Self-controlled, even when he didn't seem like he was. Disciplined, perhaps, was a better word for it.
And he wears a suit so nicely.
When Steve showed up at the Tuxedo Club again, in the full light of day and trying not to look like he was skulking, the doorman said, "He's waiting for you, sir," and let him inside before he'd said a word. "Up the stairs, they're in the dining room."
Steve followed the stairs up to the next floor and found himself in a place as swanky as the one below, if a little more subdued. There were a few tables scattered around, but only one was occupied, by a brunette and a blond man and Tony, who rose out of his chair to come greet him.
"Slight change of plans," he said under his breath, as they shook hands.
"I thought we were meeting alone," Steve said, just as softly.
"Guests came in from back east, I couldn't say no. We'll talk after," Tony replied, and placed a hand on the small of his back to guide him to the table. "Now we're four," he announced to the others with a smile. "Hank, Jan, this is Steve Rogers, he's lending me a hand with some problems. Steve, that's Jan van Dyne Pym -- "
"The fashion designer," Steve said, taking her hand.
"You know me?" she asked with a beaming smile.
"Ma'am, half the country knows you," Steve replied, admittedly a little awed.
"And her husband Hank Pym, the biologist," Tony continued.
"Pleasure," Hank said, shaking hands over the table.
"Likewise. Tony tells me you're visiting from New York."
"Well, the shopping in Chicago's wonderful this time of year," Jan said.
"Steve's fresh from back east himself," Tony put in. "You've been in Chicago what, two weeks?"
"Little under ten days, matter of fact. Born and bred in Brooklyn," Steve said.
"How are you finding Chicago?" Hank asked.
Steve considered his answer. "Complicated," he said. He heard Tony snort. "Folks are nice, though. Everyone sure does want to lend a hand."
"Midwestern manners," Tony said, and moved the conversation along. Nobody asked what Steve was doing in Chicago; he could only imagine what the Pyms thought of him.
He didn't pay much attention to what they were eating, more inclined to watch the way Tony interacted with his guests. Jan van Dyne Pym was a rich socialite and a famous designer in her own right, like Coco Chanel. Steve had never heard much about her husband, other than that he sometimes went off on bug-hunting expeditions for months at a time, to Africa and South America and God-knew-where. Steve supposed it took all kinds.
Tony was charming, interested, witty; showing off, Steve thought, though whether for his benefit of theirs, or just because he liked to, Steve couldn't tell.
"You should come with us this afternoon," Jan said, when they'd finished eating. "We're going to the Field Museum, and I need someone to squire me around the exhibits while Hank talks bugs with the curators."
"I'd love to," Tony said, kissing her hand. "But I'm afraid I have business to conduct. I'll see you at the Iron tonight, though?"
"You'd better," she replied, following Hank to the door. "Enjoy your business, Tony," she added with a wink.
"So," Tony said, turning to Steve. "You play cards?"
"Not really a gambling man," Steve answered.
"Don't tell me you didn't have a hand or two in the trenches."
"Now and again, I suppose."
"Great. Come along," Tony called, already heading for the staircase. They went up another floor, to what seemed like an empty storage space, and through a door into a snug little room with an impressive array of alcohol along one wall and a bare table in the center. Tony picked up a deck of cards from the bar and tossed them onto the table.
"I'll concede to your Puritan values and play you rummy," Tony said, as Steve sat down warily.
"I'd just like to find out what you learned in South Bend."
"Sure. Tell you what, we'll play a better game. One question each, then the other one gets one. Keeps things organized," Tony said.
"And it's a game of strategy," Steve replied.
"Knowing which questions to ask," Steve said. "You think you can run rings around the flatfoot. It's fine; I'll play along."
"You're a suspicious man, Captain."
"Comes with the job."
Tony offered him the deck, and he drew a card -- ace of diamonds. He flicked it around in his fingers. Tony held up a second card, the four of clubs.
"Guess you go first," Tony said. "Only got one rule."
"Yeah, what's that?"
"What we say at the table stays at the table. I got a lot to protect," Tony said, when Steve raised an eyebrow. "If this is gonna work, I need to know I can trust you not to use what you hear against me."
"That go both ways?"
"You expect to say something I could use against you?" Tony asked.
"Just making sure."
"Sure. Both ways," Tony agreed. "Fire away, Captain."
"What'd you learn in South Bend?"
Tony gave him a dry look. "Not much, I have to say. I did find out where my scotch comes from. There's a shipping company that brings it west from Boston. If I had to guess, I'd say it was getting to Boston from Scotland, through Ireland by way of Galway port, and from Boston to us overland. It comes through a warehouse in South Bend run by one of my regulars, name of Fury. He knew what Yinsen was taking to Chicago, and so did his guy, Philly, but they had no reason to go after the drink. They could get their own if they wanted, and anyway why not just knock Yinsen off at the warehouse?"
"Unless they wanted to throw off suspicion."
"I can see why you're the Detective. Fury's wily that way, but I don't get the sense he'd bother. And they're discreet fellas. So what I learned in South Bend is mostly that South Bend's not where we ought to be looking."
"Then where?" Steve asked.
"Ah ah, my turn," Tony said, waggling a finger. "What'd you find here in Chicago?"
"Bunk," Steve admitted, folding his hands on the table. "All my leads here are dead. I wouldn't have been so eager to talk about yours if I had anything of my own to go on. So I suppose my next question is, who in Chicago has the guts, the power, and the motive to knock over your guy?"
"I'm on pretty good terms with most of them. There's a short list. Capone, maybe, but I thought we were getting along. A couple of the Greek's guys. The Greek himself wouldn't give a shit."
"Does he seriously not have a name?"
"Not your turn, but no, not that any of us are aware of," Tony said, eyes bright and amused. "Possibly a few aldermen might have it in for me."
"Aldermen!" Steve said. "Elected city officials. Jesus Christmas, Tony."
"Hey, nobody twists their arms. If they were as good as they oughta be they wouldn't get elected," Tony said with a shrug. "I'll write you down a list if you want one that badly, but you're taking tips on who to investigate from someone who's their biggest rival."
"I'd like it all the same."
"Done. My turn. What's your next move? Gonna shake down the boys on my list until one of them rattles?"
Steve considered it. "Don't see what else I can do. I'll look into them first. I'll keep your name out of it."
"Thanks for your concern, but I wasn't actually worried about that," Tony said, grinning.
"You should be. This kind of thing can start a war. I saw it happen in New York. Why, do you recommend something different?"
"Sure. I recommend you let my people look into it for you. Oh, don't give me that look," Tony said, when Steve scowled. "I can put a handful of people on it and make sure they report directly to you."
"What, like a capo?"
Tony narrowed his eyes. "Wrong immigrants, and no. Like people who can do more for you in less time than a couple of flatfoots, even if you could get 'em and if you could trust 'em. Where were you for eight years?"
Steve blinked, taken aback. "That's your question?"
"I didn't say I was gonna stick to the case," Tony replied, leaning forward, keen and interested now. "Course, if you want to end this, now's your chance."
"It's like that, huh." Steve shook his head. "Fine. It took me a while to get my head right when I got home. When I did, I joined the force. That's as much as you're getting, so don't ask again."
"Interesting," Tony replied, eyes lowering a little, looking into the distance speculatively.
"Were you really in the war?" Steve asked, mostly to shock him.
It worked, too. Tony looked up. "Where'd you pick up that tidbit, Detective?"
"I believe it's my turn," Steve replied evenly. Tony nodded.
"Yes. I was in the war. Why'd you get thrown out of New York?"
Oh, so that was how it was going to be. "I wasn't thrown out. I was transferred."
"Bullshit. You were run out of town and I want to know why."
"I was half of a scandal," Steve said slowly. "I was offered a resignation or a transfer to Chicago. Why'd you stop making guns?"
"I developed a dislike for things that suddenly go boom and blow off half a man's body. What was the scandal?"
"I had an affair. You lose a buddy?"
"Don't fuck me around, we all lost buddies in the war," Tony snarled. "Nobody gets religion over that. I stopped making guns because the Germans got hold of some of mine and one of them happened to get lucky."
"My turn. Wife or daughter?"
"Excuse me?" Steve asked.
"You had an affair that got you thrown out of New York? Did you fuck a fellow officer's wife, or the police commissioner's daughter?"
"He hasn't got a daughter, but if you want a complete answer: neither. What do you mean, got lucky?"
Tony patted his heart. "I got a bullet about five inches from my ticker. Good news is, it's stuck in a rib. Bad news is, I ever take a hit right about here," he pressed a finger down just below and to the right of where his heart would be, "it might finish the job. I decided liquor was a little safer than guns."
"Tony," Steve said, staring at his chest. He'd heard of wounds like it, even encountered one or two, but the horror never went away.
"I don't want your pity, I get by just fine," Tony said. "Who'd you seduce?"
"I'm not answering that."
"Then we're done here."
"Fine by me," Steve said, and started to stand, when Tony asked, "Was it the commissioner's son?"
Steve froze. He knew he shouldn't; he knew how a man was supposed to react. But dammit, Tony was getting under his skin and he needed his help and anyway, they were standing above a gin joint where --
"No," he said, bowing his head. "Fellow officer."
"Now we're getting somewhere," Tony replied. Steve rested his hands heavily on the table.
"It wasn't an affair," he admitted. "I misjudged him. I made a...suggestion. He reported me. End of story. No great romance, I'm afraid."
"I could blackmail you with this," Tony pointed out, standing up and going to the bar. He took a stopper out of a glass bottle and poured amber liquid into a tumbler.
"What we say here stays here," Steve said. Tony nodded, allowing it. "Besides, you'd have found out eventually, if you really went lookin'. And there's no proof, just his word and mine, but mine's a little less trustworthy. That's probably why I got sent here, instead of drummed out completely."
"And what happens when you make a suggestion here?" Tony asked, offering him the glass. Steve took it and set it carefully aside on the table.
"I wouldn't try that twice. Men like me, Tony, we live on the edge or we end alone. I've been on the edge; I don't think it's worth it."
"The problem is, it isn't an edge," Tony said. Steve was aware of how close he was, with his hip hitched against the table next to Steve's arm. Close enough to sock, and Steve considered laying one on him; close enough to feel his body heat. He decided against it. "Detective. Captain."
Steve glanced at him, then looked back down.
"It's not an edge, Steve," Tony said quietly. "It's a border. What you saw here the other night? That's a whole new country just past it. I'm not saying it's right and it sure as hell isn't perfect, but it's what we got, and we keep our own secrets. Nobody gets reported for a suggestion. Nobody gets drummed out for looking where he or she oughtn't."
"I'm a lawman," Steve said. "That's not a place I can go."
"Well, that's between you and your morals, I suppose, but you wouldn't be the first we had down there, or the last."
A warm palm cupped his cheek, and Steve jerked away slightly, startled, but Tony just followed his movement, turning his face so that they were eye-to-eye.
"What I really did," Tony said, "when I stopped making guns, was I started making things right, law or not. I made places for people who didn't belong. Soldiers who left parts of themselves back in the war and needed some time to get their heads right. Folks who just want a drink and a dance and don't want a bunch of Presbyterians praying outside the dance hall. People who don't mind so much if the music they hear isn't played by a white man. People society won't tolerate because they don't love like they're told they oughta."
"Which one of those are you, then?" Steve asked.
"Oh," Tony said with a small smile. "All of the above?"
Steve lost his temper, and he knew it was happening even as he moved, but he couldn't help it. Hot rage surged up in him, resentment that this had been here all along and he hadn't known it, fury that he'd spent so long alone. Anger that this man was toying with him, taunting him.
He pivoted swiftly, reacting as the war had taught him, turning the anger into defense. He grabbed Tony by the lapels of his nice suit and pulled him close and asked, "What do you want from me, Stark? You're playing this game, what do you win if I lose? Or isn't it my turn?"
Tony, to his credit, brought his arms up and broke the hold, not effortlessly but with no fear in his expression. "You want to know what I want?" he hissed, leaning in. "I want to own you."
Steve jerked back, shocked.
"I want every devious little thought and clever deduction that ever went through your head. You're too damn smart to run around enforcing laws you don't believe in, for a system that's so broke it can't even tell it's crumbling." He took a step forward, and Steve stepped back involuntarily. "I want you for a soldier in my country. I want your soul, because fuck knows nobody else is making use of it, not even you." Another step, and Steve's shoulders slammed against a wall. "I want your body to belong to me."
They were pressed chest-to-chest, now, and Tony reached out --
And straightened Steve's tie.
"But I'll settle for the guy who killed Joe Yinsen," he said softly. "Because you're too scared to come over to this side. It's a rare moment I don't get everything I want; you should treasure it."
He stepped back, and Steve exhaled.
"There's the door," Tony said. "I'll make sure that list gets to you. If you need some of my guys, you know how to get in touch."
Steve was ashamed of how relieved he was to flee.
Tony, true to his word, sent a two-page document over to Steve by courier on Monday, with nothing to indicate it had come to the police station from one of the biggest crooks in Chicago. It was only six names, but each one had a paragraph or two below it about who they were and why they might have it in for him, written in a neat drafting hand that had to be Stark's.
Steve folded up the document, put it in his inside pocket, and went to see what he could find on his new suspects.
It wasn't easy, not knowing who to talk to, who to shake down, who to avoid. People were people everywhere, but Chicago might as well have been a new world for him. He got a few answers from the aldermen's offices, enough to scratch three names off the list of six, but not nearly as many as he'd like. And he suspected word was getting around that a flatfoot was nosing in where he wasn't wanted or welcome.
Tuesday night, after a long day of pounding pavement and getting nowhere, he went home and rummaged around in the trunk he still hadn't fully unpacked, pulling a battered book out of the bottom. He shaved, put on a clean suit, sat on his bed for a while to consider this madness, and finally got up and went out.
The minute he walked into the Tuxedo Club, Miss Potts found him.
"Tony said you'd be back," she said with a smile, a martini in one hand. "I didn't think it would be so soon. Can I buy you a drink, Steve?"
"Still a detective, Miss Potts," he said, and she made a little moue of disappointment. "I'm looking for Tony. I don't imagine he's here, but I thought you might be, and know where I could find him."
"Not going to arrest him, I hope?"
"No," he said, and then admitted, "I need his help."
"Don't we all," she replied. "Is this about Joe?"
"What else would it be about?"
"You never know," she said airily. "He's been looking into things, you know. If you're racing him to the finish, he might be ahead. Might not want to let his lead go to waste."
"We had an agreement."
"Well, Tony always honors his bets. He's at the Iron tonight, I think. Do you know where it is?"
"Not the faintest clue," he said.
"I'll have Happy take you."
He wasn't sure what to make of that, until she lifted a hand and waved at someone sitting behind the bar. "Happy! Happy, sweetheart."
"Miss Potts," the man said, coming up to them.
"Be a good boy and take our friend here to the Iron. VIP treatment the whole way, he needs to see Tony," she said.
"I can get there myself," Steve began, because he was a little suspicious of a gangster moll's driver taking him anywhere, but she just laid a hand on his arm.
"Please. A friend of Tony's is always a friend of ours. Go on," she added, with a little push.
"Happy to take you," Happy said, with a grin that told Steve he probably never got tired of the joke. "This way, sir."
Happy led him to a car outside the club, a long sleek number but not quite as flashy as the one Natasha had been driving in South Bend.
"So you work for Miss Potts?" Steve asked, awkward about having a door held for him.
"These days," Happy replied, getting into the driver's seat. "Used to drive Mr. Stark, but Miss Potts does a lot more traveling than him now."
"How was Stark to work for?"
"Oh, fine. Liked to drive himself, made my job easier. Heck of a mechanic," Happy said, pulling onto the street.
"Sure. Most of his regular delivery drivers've had what you could call some Stark innovations. He makes 'em lighter, makes 'em run faster."
Steve digested this in silence as Happy prattled on about engines and construction, until they pulled to a stop outside another alley.
"I don't know the password," Steve said, as Happy held the door for him again.
"Tell 'em Happy sent you to see Mr. Stark," Happy replied. "They'll take you up to the VIP bar."
"Thanks, pal," Steve said, tipping him.
"No problem. You want me to wait?"
"No, I'm sure Miss Potts will need you."
"Enjoy your night," Happy replied with a grin, and the car roared off as Steve murmured his makeshift password to the doorman, who led him inside.
He had to stop for a minute when they entered, just to take in the glory of the Iron, the most infamous speakeasy on the north side. It was all scarlet and gold, gorgeous in an overwhelming sort of way, full of people with drinks in their hands and dance partners on their arms. It glittered and roared. It was...it was very Tony.
There were two bars, on two separate levels; one next to the dance floor, where cigarette girls were circulating, and another on a raised sort of balcony up half a flight of stairs. He was led up the stairs, noting the envious looks as he passed, and guided under a velvet rope. The doorman said something to the bartender, who nodded and gestured for Steve to head to the far end of the bar. A cluster of people there told Steve what he'd find.
Tony was standing in the middle of a crowd, telling some story, clearly a little tipsy. Steve tried not to elbow anyone as he approached.
"So then I -- hey!" Tony interrupted himself, noticing Steve. "Hey, c'mere."
"Oh, it's Steve!" one of the women said, and Steve caught the face under the fashionable hair set with a little diamond-encrusted band.
"Mrs. Pym," he said. She offered her hand to be kissed, so he did his best. Tony laughed.
"Business or pleasure?" he asked Steve, offering him a cigar from a plate on the table. Steve waved it off.
"Business," he said quietly. Tony nodded.
"Scuse me, my babies, I have work to do," he said. "Step into my office, Captain."
Tony's office turned out to be an actual office, through a door off the bar, with wide glass windows looking down on the Iron, and a desk and typewriter and telephone.
"How's your search going?" Tony asked, leaning on the desk.
"Not that well," Steve said, feeling a little foolish. He wasn't sure why he was here, wasn't sure if he'd read anything about this man correctly.
"Hey, my offer stands. You want a few of my boys, they're all yours."
"Tony, we didn't part ways so well," Steve said. "I been thinking about it."
"No, I suppose we didn't," Tony agreed.
"Brought you a peace offering," Steve added. He held out the book. Tony took it, but didn't open it; instead he studied him.
"Wasn't necessary," he said. "If anything, I should've sent you a couple of bottles of top shelf, except I know you wouldn't take 'em."
"Leastways you were honest," Steve said.
"Leastways I was. So what's this all about?" Tony asked, flipping the cheap cover open. He looked down at the page inside, then flipped it; he got through a few more before he looked up again. "A sketchbook?"
"My sketchbook," Steve said.
"You're a hell of an artist."
"You wanted to know where those eight years went," Steve replied. "That's how I tried to get my head straight. Some sketching, mainly painting."
"These are really good. You never had a show in New York?"
"Nope. Never got that much attention. Starved on a pension that wouldn't feed a child, till the days I wanted to eat somethin' outnumbered the days I wanted to paint somethin'. Pal of mine got me a job at the PD."
"I gotta say," Tony said, fingers drifting above a pencil sketch of a male nude, "you sure aren't fooling anyone with this book."
"Figured that," Steve replied. Tony closed it and offered it back, and Steve took it.
"Thank you," Tony said. "Far as I'm concerned, we're square. What do you need?"
He'd intended to say that he needed help on his end of the case, that he needed more than a paragraph on paper to figure out who his first suspect was. But the easy, loose way Tony said it made him look down and blush.
Tony cocked his head, then reached out and flicked a curtain across the windows into the bar; a second sharp movement and dim lights rose from a pair of lamps in the room. He pushed off the desk and came forward until he was standing in Steve's space again. He smelled like aftershave lotion, and something a little nicer than gin.
"Do you want to be owned, Steve?" he asked.
Steve's head came up. "No."
"Not even for a little while?" Tony pressed, hands sliding under his overcoat. "I'm very careful with my things. More so with what others lend me."
Steve could hear himself make a soft noise, half-protest and half-surrender, and Tony touched his tie again, tugging it loose. He leaned up and kissed him, right on the mouth, and Steve heard a soft thud as the sketchbook dropped to the floor.
Tony, the minute he felt Steve bend into the kiss, suppressed his initial instinct to crow triumphantly. He might not own the cop and he might not even own the man, but there was a certain thrill in bringing someone this far past the line. Especially someone as interesting as Steve Rogers.
He brought his hands up from Steve's loose-hanging tie to wrap around his neck, thumbs holding his jaw in place, just in case Steve had any thoughts of backing out. Tony would admit to being a little drunk, but he strategized just as well drunk as sober. Steve coming here and showing him that book meant something, meant he wanted more than an uneasy truce with a gangster who could help him. He wondered how Steve had found the place, but not for long. Not when Steve's mouth was opening under his, tongue licking up the taste of alcohol in his mouth.
Tony slid one hand up the back of Steve's head, gripping his short hair firmly, and brought the other one down to undo Steve's tie completely, working one-handed on the buttons of his vest. Steve moaned and turned them, pushing Tony back against the wall, and began working on Tony's necktie. The pin holding it in place clattered to the floor. Tony was pretty sure at least one of the buttons had come off his waistcoat and he was beginning to worry about the chain on his pocket watch.
"Easy, soldier," he said, catching Steve's lower lip in his teeth. "Careful with the goods."
"Careful, he says," Steve breathed, rutting his hips against him. Tony grinned and pushed back, shoving overcoat and jacket and vest off in a single move, tugging Steve's shirt-tails out of his trousers. Steve's hand went for his belt-buckle, hampered by the closeness of their bodies.
"What do you want?" Tony asked, rolling his body up into Steve's touch.
"For you to shut up for a little while," Steve answered, before he kissed him again so Tony couldn't reply. Fair enough. Steve got the buckle open and the buttons on his trousers, and Tony felt them slide down to his thighs, catching on his spread legs.
"How very like the army," Tony murmured, and Steve laughed hoarsely as he shoved his own pants down, burying his face between Tony's collar and the side of his throat. Tony brought a hand around to touch Steve or possibly even himself, wanting to ease the ache of arousal a little, but Steve's big broad hand wrapped around both of them and Tony allowed himself a whimper.
It wasn't elegant or particularly romantic, but for romance you could read a book. Their bodies rolled together, Tony panting, Steve groaning in a stifled sort of way that said more about his previous experience than anything else. He was clumsy and a little on the rough side, too, but Tony let the sensation ripple through him, enjoying the faint edge of pain as much as the pleasure. God damn, the man had some shoulders, he thought, as he gripped one tightly.
Steve's hand, jerking around them both, stuttered and lost its rhythm for a moment, and Steve bit down on the skin beneath his mouth. Tony felt the orgasm rise through him, surging in a way he hadn't felt in too long, and he dug in his fingers as he came -- as Steve came too, with a bitten-off shout.
Tony let go slowly, cupping one hand against Steve's head. Steve shuddered and made a sobbing noise against his collar.
"Mind if I talk now?" he asked. Steve made to move, but Tony held him there -- the other man was bigger and stronger and younger, could pull away if he wanted, but the touch seemed to be enough. "Easy. It's not a mortal sin, you know. Just a little pleasure. Sounds like you're owed it."
Steve exhaled heavily, and Tony let him go. He watched as Steve shamefacedly pulled his pants up with one hand, casting around for something to clean off his other with, and Tony offered him a handkerchief.
"Thanks," Steve muttered, wiping at the come on his shirt-tail. Tony smiled, feeling easy and spent, and pulled his own still-immaculate clothing together.
"Have a seat," he said, guiding Steve to the chair. He took down a bottle of scotch -- his last, in fact, given that Yinsen's delivery had been so disastrously interrupted -- and poured out two glasses. "Drink."
"Why not," Steve muttered, still not meeting his eyes, and took a sip, coughing a little.
"How long since you've had some?"
"Never?" Tony asked, surprised.
"Went to war when I was eighteen. Then Prohibition came in."
"War sounds like enough of a reason to drink."
Steve shrugged. "I had men to look after."
"Well, that's the good stuff," Tony said, reaching out to smooth his hair down. He was surprised when Steve allowed it, both hands clenched around the glass. "This isn't what you thought you came here for, but I think it is, isn't it?"
"Christ," Steve muttered.
"Had very little to do with it, nor do I suspect he cares," Tony drawled.
"How can you just...just not care? What we've done?"
"Done worse." Tony continued to touch, thumb brushing along the little swirl where Steve parted his hair. "I like making people happy. I like pleasure. If I could light up the entire world, I would, but I can't. So I make a point of not feeling sorry when someone is pleased by what I've done."
"Don't mistake me. I don't fuck everyone I meet just to make them smile. But you? I'd do more to get less. Come on, gorgeous," he said, sliding his hand down to tip Steve's chin up. "Give me a smile, at least."
Steve gave him a weak, slightly rueful smile, but he'd take it. He leaned in and kissed him again.
"May I keep your sketchbook for now?" he asked. Steve nodded. "Good. So, I can leave here, and you can come with me. Or you can leave by your lonesome and sleep, and come see me at home tomorrow, and we'll talk business then. I don't let myself get distracted by pleasure either. At least, not for long."
"I couldn't come home with you," Steve said.
"Well, you could, but I understand," Tony answered.
"What am I doing?" Steve asked him.
"What do you think?"
"The world's not black and white," Steve said, turning back to his drink. "I know that. I know cops have to compromise. But this place seems like it's all grey. Half the men I work for actually work for you, or someone like you. The laws I'm breaking are bad laws, but I swore I wouldn't break 'em, and I am. I'm no better than they are."
"Oh, I don't know," Tony said. "You're doing it out of need. Little better than greed," he said, holding up his fingers a few inches apart. "Go home, Captain," he said, infusing the title with the affection of an endearment. "Sleep well. Have nice dreams."
Steve made a thoughtful noise, but he turned his face up to kiss Tony again, rising out of the chair. "What will you do?"
"Spend a few more hours lighting up my little corner of the world," Tony answered. "Goodnight, Steve."
"Goodnight, Tony," Steve said. He bent and picked up the sketchbook on his way out, laying it on the table. "I'll be by tomorrow at eight."
"Better make it nine," Tony called. Steve turned, questioning. "Sinners sleep late."
Steve's smile was at once shy and brilliant. After the door shut, Tony collected the sketchbook, settled down in the chair, and began to page through it.
Steve didn't sleep as well as he could have hoped; the night had not gone how he'd planned and his dreams knew it, cycled him back through the war and kept waking him up with half-cried names of dead soldiers on his lips. When he presented himself at Tony Stark's palace of a home the next morning, he was still tired, still confused. At least, he supposed, the exhaustion kept him from being too nervous.
A servant answered the door, smiled when he heard the name Rogers, and showed him upstairs to a bedroom where Tony was sitting at a little table, wrapped up in a silk dressing-gown over a pair of warm-looking pajama pants. Two cups of coffee were on the table, and a basket of bakery goods.
"Put up a chair," Tony said, setting the newspaper aside. The headline read LABOR LEADER JONES DEAD AT 93. "I'd have dressed, but I warned you I sleep late."
"It's fine," Steve said, sipping the coffee. It rolled across his tongue, smooth and rich, and he looked down at it, startled.
"Good stuff, huh?" Tony asked. "Imported from Italy, they know how to do it there. How's morning treating you?"
"Not this good," Steve said, gesturing around him.
"I'm a lucky man. Have a muffin if you want one, they're blueberry. What've you got on the business front?"
Steve studied him for a moment, wondering if they were going to ignore what they'd done, and his frankly embarrassing behavior afterwards. There was a warmth in Tony's eyes that promised they weren't, but the set of his jaw said they were going to work the case first, come hell or high water.
Or hand jobs, he thought with an inner sigh, and took the paperwork out of his pocket.
"I managed to cross some off your list," he said. "The Greek's men have alibis that stand up, even if they wouldn't be the kind of thing you'd use in court."
"Off whacking some other poor bastard?"
"Knocking over a bank out of town."
"Fulla class, those boys," Tony said with a sigh. "Why'd you nix Logan?"
"He's been in Joliet -- the prison, not the town -- for the last three months. And the aldermen you mentioned have alibis."
"Haven't got the dope on him yet, then. But I suppose Jim Logan wasn't ever much of a thorn in my side to start with. So," Tony said, studying the scratched-up papers. "That leaves Modock and Danvers."
"What can you tell me about them? Aside from what you've got here," Steve said.
Tony sat back. "Danvers is a good kid, but she's got a mean streak. I wouldn't be surprised if she tries to move in on me in the next few years. Can't really blame her, she doesn't like being blocked out of Chicago. She runs pretty much everything up in Milwaukee now. Nice work for a girl from the sticks. You'd like her. Served as a Marine in the war."
"She was a military nurse?"
"No, she was a Marine," Tony said placidly.
"I don't follow."
"Nobody checked her drawers before signing her up. Or giving her an honorable discharge. It's a pretty funny story, way she tells it. Come on, Captain, did you think only queers and the morally intemperate got through?" Tony asked, when Steve gave him what was admittedly probably a shocked look. "You're like a shorn lamb. You need me, clearly." He leaned across the table and picked up a telephone receiver, cradling it next to his ear with his shoulder while he poured himself some more coffee. "Jarvis, send Lang up, would you?"
"Lang?" Steve asked, as Tony hung up.
"One of my guys. After all, why have a dog and bark yourself? He's reliable, and it frees up my morning, too," Tony added, as a man in a dove-grey suit entered. Steve could see a shoulder holster bulging slightly under his arm. "Lang."
"This mess with Yinsen. We're looking into Danvers for it. You know a few boys up Milwaukee way, don't you?"
Lang smiled. "Yes, sir. Grew up in Cudahy."
"Go. See if she did it."
Lang shoved his hands in his pockets, pulling back the edge of his coat. "If she did..."
"No. If she did, get me something I can hang around her neck. The law gets her first this time."
Steve found himself on the receiving end of a narrow, suspicious look. "The law, boss?"
"I made a deal," Tony said. "You interested in debating it?"
"See Jarvis for some traveling dough on the way out. I want to hear from you one way or another by tomorrow morning, you get me?"
Lang nodded and left. Tony leaned back, folding his hands across his stomach.
"I'm not making your life any easier than you're making mine," Steve said thoughtfully.
"Difference is, I can't be fired for this little complication. Which reminds me," Tony added, standing, and Steve was about to ask what reminded him of what when Tony slid smoothly onto his lap, straddling his thighs. "Hi."
"Tony," Steve said, with a mixture of annoyance and affection. "I got work to do this morning."
"Modock's never up before noon," Tony replied in his ear. "And you need me to get close to him."
"This what you call helping the police with their inquiries?" Steve asked.
"Live a little, baby."
"I've lived a whole lot already," Steve said. Tony inched forward, and Steve's hands came up to his hips -- just to steady him, or they might both fall off the chair. "This is a murder investigation, I can't just take a few hours off."
"You sleep at night. You eat three meals a day. There's nothing you can do right now. Let me take you to bed," Tony insisted, hips flush with his, erection evident under his pajamas. "My walls are thick. Bet I could make you yell."
"Some kind of personal goal?" Steve asked, sliding a hand under his robe, moving the untied belt of it aside. Tony's skin was warm and sleek, not thickly muscled but not too slim, either. The small of his back dipped a little, more when he arched and pressed himself against Steve from belly to throat, mouth working at the skin below his ear.
"If you only understood," Tony said into his skin. "If you understood what I'm offering you."
"I think I understand just fine," Steve replied. Without warning he stood, both hands securing Tony's thighs; Tony yelped, but he held on for the few steps it took them to get to the bed, and when Steve tumbled him onto it he laughed and wriggled out of his robe. Steve was struck, looking down, with how rare this really was. The few times he'd done this, mostly during the war, he'd never even been allowed this much skin, or the luxury just to look. Tony stretched and posed, utterly relaxed, clearly trying to entice.
Well, it was working.
Still, Steve went to the door as he pulled off his tie, flicking the deadbolt and only then unbuttoning his shirt, shrugging it off and reaching for his belt as he returned to the bed. Tony rolled onto his knees, batted Steve's hand away and used his grip on the belt to pull him close, unbuckling it.
Steve bent to pull his shoes off but Tony caught his arm and shook his head, continuing to undo his trousers. Steve watched, perplexed, as Tony shoved his clothes down around his thighs and leaned in to kiss his abdomen.
"You are ridiculous," Tony said, nuzzling against him. "You have the body of a Greek sculpture. Do you weight-press barrels or what?"
"Calisthenics," Steve replied, smoothing down Tony's wild hair. "What are you -- Jesus Christ," he broke off roughly, as Tony bent and licked a line up the underside of his dick. Tony leaned back and licked his lips.
"If you get on the damn bed, Captain, I can do that without putting my back out. War injury, y'know," he said with a cheeky look. Steve toed his shoes off and struggled out of the rest of his clothing in a daze, letting himself be pulled onto the smooth blankets, propped against the heap of pillows at the head of the bed. Tony stretched out like a cat and bit his hip gently.
"You make a fella believe there might be a God," Tony said, and bent his head to take him into his mouth. Steve gripped the blankets tightly.
"I make -- " he managed, groaning. Tony's head bobbed, and Steve choked on whatever nonsense he'd been about to say next. It wasn't his first, but it was his first when he wasn't standing up, and Tony was taking his sweet time. The hot, wet clutch of his mouth slid down slow, pulled back like it was taking his soul with it, and he threw his head back and gave in again. It was better than the burn of alcohol, better than pinning Tony to the wall and taking what he wanted, with Tony's warm hand curled around his thigh and Tony's body undressed before him.
His head thudded against the board of the bed and he closed his eyes, breath catching every time Tony moved, tension curling itself up his body until he gasped "Oh -- oh, stop, I can't -- "
There was a sudden rush of cold air, and when he opened his eyes Tony was resting his head on his bent thigh, grinning.
"You did say stop," he said.
"Come up here," Steve managed, tugging on his arm until Tony obeyed, settling into his lap once more. Steve whined when it slid their bodies together.
Tony curled his hands at the back of Steve's head and kissed him, coffee and salt. Steve kissed back, greedy for this for however long it lasted, guilty over what he ought to be doing. It made the sweetness a little sharp, made it all the better.
"I'd like to ride you," Tony said, which made next to no sense, but Steve was too lost in the feeling of his skin to question. "Some other time, perhaps. Really -- oh -- I should do everything I can to stop you from solving this case, don't know what I was thinking, why I would ever want this to be done...yeah," he added, as Steve keened into his shoulder, unable to bite it back any longer. "That's it, make some noise, I want you to."
Steve breathed hard against him, the sweet rub of their bodies together obscene and wonderful. "Tony -- Tony -- "
Tony wrapped his arms around Steve's shoulders, cradling his head, blatantly affectionate, another thing he'd never had before. A man didn't do that, and didn't ought to want it, but he did so much he was gasping for it, high thin noises that echoed in the still room. The first touch of Tony's hand between them sent him spinning over the edge and he didn't bother to bite back the yell this time.
Tony shuddered against him, going lax and limp as Steve tried to pull his wits together.
The warm, brief kiss was unexpected. Tony flopping back onto the bed, boneless and smug, was not. He shot Steve a self-satisfied grin and passed him a handkerchief again, one of an apparently endless supply.
"I fear for whoever does your laundering," Steve said, tidying himself and easing down to lie next to Tony, staring at the ceiling.
"Why? I pay extremely well," Tony answered. He rolled, curling his body around Steve's, nuzzling at his shoulder. "Welcome to the borderland, Captain."
"I suppose it's not all bad," Steve allowed, drowsing in the afterglow. He slid his hand down Tony's body, shoulder to hip, and back up. "I like the uniforms."
Tony laughed. "Well, you're made for them."
"Is that so."
"You're beautiful. Surely you understand that," Tony replied.
"I'm just another cop."
"Trust me, if they made more cops like you I might be a more law-abiding citizen. Though perhaps I'd go the opposite route, just to get your attention."
"Are you saying I could tempt you to the straight and narrow?" Steve asked, tugging lightly on his hair.
"You should continue to try," Tony informed him solemnly. Steve laughed.
"I'll bear that in mind," he said, and when Tony kept looking up at him, eyes dark and considering, he frowned. "What?"
"Just thinking," Tony said, rolling off him, turning his head to keep eye contact. "What I wouldn't do with you," he added, almost to himself.
Steve pushed himself up on one arm, leaning over him.
"How d'ya mean?" he asked.
"Oh, I don't know," Tony said. "Dress you up in a thousand dollar suit. Take you to the Iron on my arm. Introduce you to your police commissioner -- let him know who he can't put the screws to," he added, grinning. "Get you out of that ratbag room of yours and put you in a palace."
"How do you know where I live?"
"Been looking into you. You think I didn't know you're doing the same? Barton said you asked about me."
Steve cocked his head. "The reporter? How do you know him?"
"Am I being interrogated, Detective?" Tony asked.
"He's a reporter. Everyone knows him. See that?" Tony said, pointing to a framed photograph on the wall. It showed Tony, hat tipped over one eye, leaning in the doorway of a building with steps leading up to it. He had one foot two steps higher than the other, leg cocked, and Miss Potts was sitting on his bent knee, beaming. In the background, the shadows of other people loomed through the door. "Clint's work."
"He did say he was a dead eye with a camera."
"I lend him a hand sometimes, he does me some favors. He's probably got the best camera in town. I don't hold it against him when he has to run stories about me, either. Man's gotta make a living."
"You fix cameras."
"I fix his camera."
"And soup up your drivers' engines. You run booze, and you investigate murders. Anything you don't do?"
Tony leaned away from him momentarily, fetching what Steve recognized as his sketchbook from the bedside table.
"I don't do this," he said, handing it to him. It was open to a page Steve remembered from a day he'd taken the ferry out to the Statue of Liberty, before he left New York. He'd seen two men sharing a smoke at the railing, and drawn them hastily; the painting he'd done from it was good, but in retrospect he wasn't surprised he'd never sold it.
"The point is," Tony continued, stretching out, arms behind his head, "You got one room and a hob in a boarding house, when you could have a penthouse studio. Not just from me. You could charm a dozen women and as many men in this town, if you knew how. I'd be the best, though. Fix you up right, soft chairs and silk sheets. Pay you to paint my portrait once a week. I'm a self-centered kinda guy; I'd enjoy that."
He said it serenely, as if it were a foregone conclusion. Steve heard alarm bells ringing in his head.
"For how long?" he asked. Tony glanced at him. "How long before you get bored'a me and I'm back in the one room with the hob?"
"I told you, I look after my things," Tony said. Steve felt a chill creep over his skin.
"I don't want to be your belonging," he said, sliding off the bed. "This was a mistake."
"Steve -- Steve! Captain!" Tony grabbed his arm, startling him, and pulled him into a kiss. "It's not a condition, it was just a daydream," Tony said, still holding him firmly by the arm. "My mind's always going. It's why I...do so much. Sometimes I say things out loud. I don't mean anything by them."
"If that's your daydream, I think you mean a lot by them," Steve replied, but he sat down again when Tony tugged.
"You never once had a fantasy you knew shouldn't come true?" Tony asked. "You never thought you'd like a patron, someone who'd pay your way and leave you be? I've always been rich," he said, settling down again. "My old man made our fortune even before the war. So I dream about...possession. It's what I know. You tellin' me growing up poor in Brooklyn you never dreamed about being possessed? Someone just...stepping up and making that road easy for you?"
Steve looked away. "Don't make it right."
"Right's not the point. You don't want to be a kept man, don't be one. Plenty of fellas at the Tuxedo would give you a tumble and never look you up again."
"No middle ground, huh? Ownership or solitude?" Steve asked. "Are you not interested in equal partnerships, or do you just think they don't exist?"
"I hope they do," Steve said, still not looking at him -- but he could see his reflection in a mirror on the wall. Tony was studying his back, a complex expression on his face. "I know this can't last. And I'm grateful for your help and your...understanding. But I won't put myself in your power. Not even for this."
Tony reached out and ran a hand down his spine. "We would be magnificent," he said quietly.
"I never really aimed for magnificent," Steve said. "Just wanted to make my way. I wanted to fight for my country and ended up Captain America. You know how hard it is to carry that kind of thing? They put me on war bond posters. Thank Christ I was younger then, nobody recognizes me now. I wanted to fight. I thought it was a just war. I hated it by the end."
"Didn't we all?"
"Guess so. I tried -- being a bohemian in New York wasn't exactly hard, but I wasn't cut out for that, either. I tried being a copper there, asked a pal if he'd get me a job, and they put me up as a Detective without even askin' me first. I made one stupid mistake and here I am. Starting over. Your magnificence is tempting, Tony, but that just means another start when you got tired of me. No thanks."
"You seem awful sure I'd get tired of you."
"It's how you live, isn't it? One shiny moment to the next."
"You have no idea how I live."
Steve ducked his head, acknowledging the protest. "Maybe not."
Tony sat up, leaning against his back and snaking his arms around his waist. "I know the value of things. I know what can't have a price put on it. I liked Yinsen, a lot, and I want to avenge his death, but I also know what this case means for you, for your new life in Chicago. If you want to make it quits when this is done, well, I won't say I won't be sorry. But if you don't want to make it quits, I won't blink first."
"And the first time you have someone killed, Tony?"
"I told you, I don't do that."
"I know how dangerous this business is. You can't promise you won't. Can you tell me you never have?"
"You killed men in the war. So did I. And yes, there have been other times, but never out of convenience. I have killed men coming at me with crowbars and guns and knives, on account of it being them or me. I never killed a man because he might make things difficult for me. If I were the ruthless murderer I'm taken for, I wouldn't just own my little slice of Chicago. I'd own the whole damn state, and in a couple'a years I'd own this country. You know the difference between a gangster and a president?" Tony asked.
Steve sighed. "I ain't gonna like the answer, am I?"
"A president gets paid less."
Steve covered one of Tony's hands in his, twining their fingers together. "Can we pretend we don't have to decide yet? About makin' it quits."
"Sure. Far as I'm concerned we can pretend forever." Tony kissed the back of his neck and climbed off the bed around him. "We should get dressed. It'll take me a while, gotta look good. I'm going to bring you with me to call on Modock personally."
"Should I stop by the precinct for my second gun?" Steve drawled.
"Nah, he's civilized usually. Just a friendly meeting between rivals. Should be enlightening, if there's any light to be thrown." Tony slapped his shoulder as he passed. "Help yourself to the paper if you want it, I have to go put on my armor."
When he was gone, whistling, Steve buried his face in his hands and sighed.
Tony was standing in his closet, considering what to wear to subtly interrogate his rival, when he heard the shriek and the yelp. He grinned.
"Pepper!" he called. "I have a guest!"
"So I see," she called back. Tony put his head out the doorway. Steve was hastily knotting his tie. Shame he got decent so fast. The man could use a little shaking up.
"My darling dearest," he said. "Steve, pour the lady a cuppa."
"Already had one, thank you though," Pepper said. "Detective, I'm going to politely ignore you, I'd appreciate if you'd do the same."
"Good as done, ma'am," Steve replied, and hid behind a newspaper. It was upside-down.
"Morning schedule," Pepper said, as Tony went back to dressing. "You have a meeting with the directors of your actual legitimate company at eleven."
"Cancel it," Tony called. "Business to do."
"Thought you might say that, so they're not expecting you."
"You're a doll," Tony said.
"You have legitimate companies?" Steve asked from behind the newspaper.
"Gotta launder money somehow," Tony pointed out.
"Don't tell me that!" Steve groaned.
"Then don't ask. Next!" Tony yelled.
"Lunch with the Deacon."
"You can't stand up a priest," Steve said.
"Sweetie, that's a nickname," Pepper informed him. "He's an arms dealer."
"I hate him," Tony pronounced.
"Yes, but you have to keep telling him that every three months."
"Ignoring him ought to get the message across. Next!"
"Manager interviews at two for the place on Clybourn."
Tony took down a gold Egyptian-cotton shirt. "I thought you were handling those."
"Then why am I there?"
"You are the boss, Tony."
Red tie. "Handle it, what do I pay you for?"
"Sometimes I wonder," Pepper sighed. "You're booked for dinner with Fury at seven."
"The price I pay for information. Probably can keep that one but if I'm late, send Natasha, he actually likes her."
"Woman-stealing jerk," Pepper muttered.
"Pepper, my own, Natasha fears God, Stalin, and you when you're angry. Only one of those three is in the vicinity. If she stepped out on you, God and Stalin couldn't help her. Nobody is stealing your woman. Go along if you wanna, Fury likes you too."
"Philly likes me. Fury puts up with me."
"Anything else?" Tony asked, stepping into a pair of deep red-brown trousers.
"You're supposed to be at the Malibu this evening."
"Well, we'll see how the day goes," Tony replied, pulling on a waistcoat and slinging the jacket of the suit over his shoulder. He walked out and cocked a hip, grinning at her. "How do I look?"
"Like a box of Japanese lacquer savaged you," she replied. Steve, however, was peering at him over the top of the newspaper, and he looked hungry, so Tony counted it a win.
"Have Jarvis hold my calls," Tony told her. "I'm heading up to see Modock, so if I'm not back by dinner, send armed thugs."
"Why on earth are you -- never mind," Pepper said, glancing at Steve. "Do try not to get yourself or anyone else killed."
"I make no promises." Tony kissed her shoulder, and went to the table by the bed, where his pocket-watch and sidearm lay. "I'm told liquor's a dangerous business."
"Well, you boys would know. Good seeing you, Detective; I'll give your regards to Natasha," Pepper said, and swanned out as gracefully as she'd swanned in.
"I could not run my life without her," Tony said, checking himself in the mirror. "It's difficult to overstate the necessity of having a dependable dame in your corner."
"I'm beginning to see what you mean," Steve replied. "You and her ever...?"
"Oh, sure, ages ago, we had some fun. She's still my date when I need someone sharp. That's all over, though. She met Natasha and that closed the book," Tony said, fixing some cufflinks in his shirt. He looked up and saw Steve's curious look in the mirror. "What?"
"You like women?" Steve asked.
"I got catholic tastes."
"Then why..." Steve gestured at himself, then at Tony. "Why make life difficult?"
"Difficult," Tony repeated, shaking his head. He turned around, leaning on the table. "I don't like people telling me what to do. I especially don't like people telling me where to put my prick, seeing as how unless I'm putting it in them it's none of their damn business. Now," he added, checking his pocket-watch, "you ready to give Modock a shakedown?"
"Yeah," Steve said, setting the paper aside and standing. "Are you sure he isn't dangerous?"
"Everyone's dangerous, but he hasn't got it out for me this week. Least, not that I know of. Besides, that's what I have this and you for," he added, slinging the holster on over his waistcoat. "Coming?"
"You're missin' a lot of business, doing this today," Steve said, as he followed Tony out of his bedroom, down the stairs.
"I enjoy missing business. I tend to do nothing else," Tony answered. Jarvis met them at the foot of the stairs. Tony rolled his eyes, handed over the gun in his holster, and waited while Jarvis checked it.
"One time I forget to load it, one time, and now he makes me do this," he complained.
"Shocking how people care about you, sir, I agree," Jarvis said, handing it back. "Your car is waiting."
Steve was mostly quiet on the drive north to Evanston, but Tony filled the silence with information, so it wasn't a loss. "Modock's pretty small-time," he said, as they drove. "He makes a lot because he supplies the gin joints for the college boys at Northwestern, but Evanston's not your general booming metropolis. Still, he's like Danvers; smart and hungry. I got raiders from the north, is what I got," he continued. "Vikings, for the love'a God."
"Is Modock an immigrant?" Steve asked.
"Rhetorical vikings. Actually we're both interested in science and mechanics, so you'd think I'd get along better with him. I'd buy him out 'cept he won't get bought. Modock's got ambition."
"But?" Steve said, with a small smile, anticipating him.
"But he hasn't got what it takes. He's not a lateral thinker. You need a good amount of ingenuity in my job. He's smart. Just not very clever."
And not very stylish either, Tony was reminded, when they were shown into Modock's personal library after arriving. Tony had timed it for a lunch invitation -- or rather breakfast, given the hours Modock kept -- and he wasn't disappointed.
"Anthony," Modock said, coming forward to greet him. He ignored Steve completely. "Good to see you, old bean."
"Modock," Tony said, shaking his hand. "How ya been keeping yourself?"
"Oh, I get along," the other man answered. Out of the corner of his eye, Tony could see Steve getting Modock's measure. He was an oddly-built man, short legs and stumpy arms, with an oversized head covered in wispy, combed-over hair. And if Pepper had cast aspersions on Tony's red-and-gold, she'd never have let him out of the house wearing a suit like Modock's: the collar of his yellow shirt was too high, the fact that his tie was the same shade as his shirt was just laughable, and his pale cream suit already had dust on the cuffs. He looked like a bad director's idea of a stage-play angel. "What brings you north?"
"Passing through, thought I'd stop and see how you were," Tony answered.
"Looking for a hot meal, I think," Modock corrected.
"Well, I know you put on a good spread. This is my associate, by the way. Sketch Rogers," Tony said, and enjoyed seeing Steve suppress a wince at the name. "Sketch, this is Modock."
"Any friend of Tony's," Modock said, and didn't actually complete the statement. "Well, come on in to the morning room, do, there's a fantastic buffet. Do you like anchovies, Mr. Rogers? Divine on toast."
"I'm more of an eggs and bacon man," Steve replied.
"Suit yourself," Modock said, leading the way. There were a dozen people in the morning room, sitting, talking, or helping themselves to platters of food laid out on a sideboard, some of them looking as if they'd slept in their clothes. Tony had breakfasts like this himself, sometimes, usually evidence of a good party the night before. Less, now; it got old after a while. Besides, with the Depression on, the Jazz Age wasn't what it used to be.
He helped himself to some food -- Steve helped himself to less -- and followed Modock to a secluded little table near the windows, which most of his hung-over guests were avoiding.
"Here we are," Modock said, bringing an unlabeled bottle over from the bar. "A little early in the day, but hair of the dog and all that. Mr. Rogers?"
"No, thank you," Steve said calmly.
"Sketch is a puritan," Tony said with a grin. "I'll have some, if you're pouring."
"Just so," Modock pronounced, and measured out two fingers into a glass.
It struck Tony suddenly, what was happening here, and he didn't have much time to formulate a reaction. He could pretend oblivion or let on that he knew; if he did the former, Modock might be suspicious, but if he let on, that didn't exactly give him the tactical advantage. His mind worked furiously as he lifted the glass to his lips and took a sip, the smooth blue-label scotch rolling over his tongue.
He set it down, ignoring Modock's expectant expression, and began to work on the fried potatoes he'd dished up. "We 'preciate the hospitality," he said, around a mouthful of food. "We're on our way to Milwaukee."
"Oh? Dreadful place, I've heard," Modock replied. Tony laughed.
"It's not so bad. Danvers is a peach."
"Not conspiring against me with her, are you?" Modock joked, but there was an edge to the question, a hint of real worry. It hadn't actually occurred to Tony to trap Modock between himself and Carol and crush the man, but it wasn't an unappealing thought. Rage was settling in the pit of his stomach, the kind he normally reserved for personal betrayals. Anger might be an instinct, but rational thought was a response he'd trained into himself. Still, he understood now what Modock had done, and it was hard to maintain control.
"Hey, did you get my invitation for the New Year's Eve shindig?" he asked. "Pepper's making me check."
"I did! I'm sorry I haven't replied yet, but I'm afraid I can't come," Modock answered. "I'm throwing one of my own, you know. Thought of renting a downtown hotel, but it's so much cosier here, don't you think?"
"Shame," Tony said. "It'll be a hell of a bash."
"No doubt. I imagine we're competing for attendance," Modock answered with an evil little smile. Tony itched to choke the man.
"Well, next year warn me and we'll lay bets," he answered with his own smile, guileless and cheerful.
"A lot can happen in a year, Anthony."
"Sure. You never know, we might get the repeal. There's a lot of wet Dems in Congress now."
"Bad news for us if we do. We'll have to drop our prices."
"Good news for the country, though."
"We could use some," Modock agreed, and Tony changed the subject. Steve mostly kept his mouth shut, which he appreciated. After the requisite coffee and cigar, Tony put on his hat and took his leave, strolling calmly out to where he'd left the car.
"It was Modock," Tony said, as they pulled down the drive.
"I know," Steve answered. Tony glanced at him. "The bottle was the first clue. That man's the kind of blue-blooded good-for-nothing we got in New York. Unlabeled bottles? Not fashionable, even I know that. And you didn't talk about anything coulda helped us get any information. Besides, I saw Modock's face when you took that drink."
"He served me some of my own damn bought-and-paid-for scotch."
"You think he did it himself? Did Yinsen, I mean."
"He's not the type. Probably had one of his boys do it. You get what it means?"
"We're going north," Steve said abruptly, noticing that they were headed away from Chicago instead of towards it.
"He's got a tail on us. He knows this might've been a fishing trip," Tony replied. "I'll lose them, don't worry your pretty head about it."
"I gotta go after Modock and his boys for murder, is what I figure."
"Above and beyond," Tony replied, heading for Evanston's small downtown. He could lose them around the University. "You heard him. He's planning a party. Maybe he gets some bites; people with power and money, people with connections, people who should be at my party -- not all, but some. He's going to bring out my scotch at that party and he's going to pour it around, and he's going to make it clear he hit one of my men to get it and there was nothing I could do. He's going to humiliate me. Make me seem weak. He's going to move on my operation next year, and this is his first step. Yinsen was killed so he could knock me down a peg."
"And you're square with that?"
"No," Tony snarled, moving the car smoothly through the increasing traffic, checking his mirror every once in a while. The tail was dropping back. "I am very definitely not square with that. There are a lot of reasons to kill a man and some of 'em I might even understand, but putting Yinsen out on the ice for a...for a prank? No. That's not square and for it I will make him regret being born."
"What are you planning?" Steve asked. Tony pulled a sharp turn and then a second, and Steve grabbed the dashboard for purchase.
"You tell me, lawman, you're the one who says the courts get him first. What are you going to do?" Tony demanded.
"This isn't enough for a warrant, and to get that I'd have to drag you into it anyhow," Steve answered. Tony darted the wrong way up a one-way street and then floored the engine for the edge of town. "Got to bring some kind of pressure to bear on Modock. And this is outside my official jurisdiction. I may need to talk to the local precinct."
"No. Strategy first. I'll want every lever you can think of, every crack in his armor. Some way to get him legally on the ropes. You don't think he did it himself? Do you have any idea who he'd call for something like that? If we can get the trigger-man, would you let him off light if he turned over Modock?"
"Consider it a hypothetical, then. Would you? Give up the man who did the killing for the man who ordered it?"
Tony drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. "If Modock knows that much about my supply runs, if he knew Yinsen would be on the ice, then he's already on the road to taking me down. It's his hand behind that death. Yeah."
"Then help me find the trigger-man, and help me work out how to flip him."
Tony shot him a look. "Who owns who, now?"
"Ain't about that," Steve replied. "Now I got something you want more than you got something I want, that's all. I'm catchin' a murderer; for you this is personal."
"It isn't for you?"
Steve's look turned softer, affectionate. "Maybe it is, a little. Now, anyway. Tony, promise me you won't move on Modock without me. I'm not fixed to see you die chasing him down, or go up for killin' him."
"I made you a deal. But if you can't get him, I got the right to act," Tony replied.
"All the more reason for me to bring him down before you put him down."
"Shame. Shooting him in the street like a sick dog's what he deserves. Jumped-up little Yalie," Tony muttered. "What do you need?"
"Tell me everything you know about him," Steve said. "And take me home so I can put it to use."
"What are you going to do?" Tony asked, as they pulled into Chicago.
"I'm not sure yet," Steve replied. He'd been listening to Tony all the way back, trying to work out anything from Tony's information that would give him a legal in. "Follow some leads. Do some thinking."
"Thinking," Tony answered, with a derisive snort.
"It's sorta what they pay me for, you know," Steve said, a little injured.
"You don't think I can?"
Tony glanced at him. "No. I think you think exceptionally well. It's just not what I come to expect from cops."
"The guy who trained me -- my old partner in New York, guy by the name'a Phillips," Steve said. "He used to say thinking was the thing we were supposed to do and hardly nobody did. I mean. It doesn't look so good, does it, sittin' at a desk and thinking, pretty much identical to sittin' at a desk and wastin' time. When we had something to chew over, he'd tell the station captain we were going to go beat down some hoods and we'd go to a diner he knew and drink about a gallon of coffee. Usually helped. Or at least kept us warm."
Tony nodded. "I can see that." He stopped at an intersection and glanced at Steve. "I got coffee at my place."
"So do I," Steve answered. "Tony, it ain't time for -- "
"I'm not suggesting that," Tony said, and Steve watched him as he moved the car forward again. Tony was clever and devious and someone Phillips would like. He was someone Steve liked. Whether or not he oughta. "Where do you want me to leave you? I don't think pulling up in a gangster's car in front of the station would be good for you."
"You serious about helping me work this out?"
"We're both in this too deep to part ways now," Tony answered.
"Come to my place. It's a little less conspicuous."
"You got a telephone?"
"Nah. But the grocer cross the street does, he lets us use it for a nickel." Steve tried for levity. "And nobody's tapping that phone."
"Trust me, nobody's tapping mine either. Not successfully, anyway," Tony replied. "I need to make a call or two. Good a place as any."
"Well, you know the way," Steve said, leaning back.
"Tell you what I'd like to do," Tony said, turning west, towards Steve's building. "I'd like to work him over and toss him out on the ice like he did to Yinsen. Don't start on me, I won't," he said, when Steve opened his mouth. "It'll be more productive to eat him alive."
Steve felt that same chill, the one he got when Tony said things he maybe didn't mean and maybe did, but which nobody should. "Eat him alive."
"I'm gonna take his business. I'm gonna take what he has and make it mine. I'd sell it to Danvers for a song. At least I know she'd have me whacked straightforward instead of going after my men. I'm going to break every last man who works for him. I'm going to make his friends outcasts in this town."
"I'm going to burn his outfit to the ground. Wipe him off the map. He won't even be a memory. We're gonna nail him because I don't want him on trial, I want him so doomed he'll plead guilty," Tony continued. "I want him rotting in Joliet, watching me own everything he thought he could have. I want Yinsen avenged, Steve."
Steve put out a hand and rested it on Tony's wrist. His knuckles were white where he gripped the wheel. Tony relaxed, slowly.
"This is me," Steve said quietly, nodding at the brick building down the street. "Come up and have a cup before you make your calls."
"If I get fleas, I'm blaming you," Tony replied, with a hint of a smile.
"Just keep clear of the mice," Steve replied.
"Kidding," Steve answered, as Tony pulled the car over. He climbed out, stretching, glad to be out of the close, charged atmosphere in the car.
Upstairs, Tony looked around with a level of curiosity that said he'd sent someone else to ascertain the ratbag qualities of Steve's apartment rather than investigating himself. He took in the cheap mattress with the quilt Steve's mother had made before she died, the heating hob, the laundry drying on the line across one end of the room, the empty easel by the window. Steve hadn't yet had the guts to put a canvas on it.
"It's...very clean," he said, as Steve put a pot on the hob and lit the gas.
"You're too kind," Steve answered, amused.
"You still paint?"
"Once in a while. Not here, yet. Blew enough cash on the easel, though, seemed a shame to get rid of it," Steve said. Tony touched the wooden brace on it cautiously. "Have a seat."
Tony looked at the bed, then around; Steve grinned. Tony tipped his chin up and stepped out of his shoes, sitting on the bed and crossing his legs, watching Steve putter around at the narrow table where he cooked.
"So," Steve said, taking two cups off a shelf, peering in them to make sure neither was dusty. "It's Modock. We know it's Modock, and he's braggin' about it. Best way to nail him is to flip the trigger-man, but a'course that puts us back at square one since how do we find him?"
"Well, he's one of Modock's boys. This wasn't a professional job, not a hit job, you know," Tony replied. "That's a place to start. But we can try the reverse, too."
"How do you mean?"
"Nail Modock and get him to give up whoever did it."
"You think I can do that?" Steve asked, raising an eyebrow. "Y'know, the feds can't."
"The feds haven't got me."
"You're not allowed to frame Modock," Steve said.
"Wrong. I'm not allowed to tell you if I do."
"Yeah, fuck," Tony groaned.
"Look, I know it's temptin' to go after Modock directly, but you're a smart guy," Steve said. "You know sometimes you have to work edgeways to get what you're after. If you don't think we can find the trigger-man, gimme something better to go on."
Tony was uncharacteristically quiet. Steve took the sugar dish down from the shelf and found a clean spoon. By the time the coffee was ready, the silence was almost unnerving. It wasn't entirely quiet -- he lived too near the train tracks for that, and cars rumbled down the street occasionally. Steve poured the coffee carefully and added some sugar to make up for how he had no cream. He offered a cup to Tony, who looked startled.
"Thanks," he said, sipping it.
"It ain't Italian," Steve said with a grin.
"I've had worse," Tony replied. "The way I see it, we could get him sent up for any number of things, but I want him for the murder. What do you call that, conspiracy?"
"Conspiracy homicide," Steve said, nodding. "We could turn him over to the feds, get him on bootlegging. Local cops could probably do something with vice. Is he involved with prostitution at all? Dope? You see an angle there?"
"The problem is, he probably just said it," Tony said. "He said to some guy, off this fella, steal his car, and the guy did."
Steve frowned. "You think this guy's still in Chicago?"
"Sure. Not enough heat to send him running. Chicago boys don't bolt unless they got a damn good reason."
"What would make him bolt?"
Tony glanced at him. "Why?"
"Well, if he thought we were closin' in, he'd run, right? Then we'd know who he was. Can't get him once he's across state lines, but if we knew how he was gonna run -- that's easy enough, we stake out Modock with some local boys and keep an eye on the trains..."
Tony snapped his fingers. "Modock's got a hot rod."
"A what now?"
"It's the new thing. They come outta California, don't ask me why, they're all crazy out there. It's a souped up car -- not like mine, mine are made to handle, Modock's is built for pure power. It's a big old thing, heavy engine, outrun most of the stuff on the road. He uses it for moving people out of town when they need to get lost in a hurry."
"And you've never done anything like that," Steve said, raising an eyebrow.
"I wouldn't be so unsubtle. If one of my boys needs to go -- well, I got better ways," Tony said. "But if you can put the heat on, I got a car that can catch the hot rod. He does our finding for us and then you flip the bastard."
"And we've got our man," Steve said with a grin. "Heat, I can do. You can help."
"It'd be a pleasure," Tony said. "What've you got in mind?"
Twenty minutes later, Tony jogged across the street from Steve's red-brick boardinghouse and ducked into a grocery that announced, in English and Polish, that it had fresh milk, newspapers, and kolaches. The woman behind the counter gave him a suspicious look.
"Steve says you have a phone folks can use," Tony said, hoping the name would trigger a reaction. Boy, did it.
"Oh! Steve!" she said, beaming. "Friend of his?"
"Sure. He's a popular guy."
"Is very sweet man," she said, flipping up the counter. "This way. Five cents per telephone call," she added, and Tony grinned, tossing her two bits.
"There's another in it for you if you make sure nobody bothers me," he said, and she left him alone in the little office, closing the door behind her. His first call was to Pepper.
"Are you going to make your dinner with Fury?" she asked, once he'd said hello. He could hear people talking in her office, and the clack of a typewriter.
"I am. I'll be at the Malibu tonight, too. Now listen, I need you to clear out the Clybourn beer hall. It's getting raided tonight."
"Damn!" she said. He did love when Pepper swore. "How do you know?"
"I'm sacrificing it to the greater good."
"That cop of yours, Tony -- !"
"Yeah, but listen, this is bigger than that, we're flushing out Yinsen's killer. Just make sure none of our people are there. Leave the beer, it was cheap shit anyway. I need you to get someone there to make a loud stink about it and get in our dear Detective's face."
There was silence for a while.
"Please, please, can Natasha do it?" Pepper asked. "She is so good at that kind of thing and she really loves it."
"Sure," Tony said. "As long as she's okay with Steve arresting her. He'll spring her later. All she needs to do is make sure she mentions how everyone knows Modock is the one who rolled Yinsen."
"Modock. She needs to make sure that is said very, very loudly."
"Loud is rarely a problem when you get her riled."
"You'd know, my darling," Tony said.
"You want to tell me what this is about, oh lord and master?" Pepper asked, laughing.
"Later, sugarplum, I promise Uncle Tony will tell you everything."
"I'll tell Tasha to be there. What time?"
"Steve has an early bedtime."
He heard Pepper sigh. "Remember, dinner with Fury at seven."
"I'll be there," he said, and clicked the receiver. He had a few other calls to make, though those ought to be more fun.
When he was done, he walked out into the little shop and flipped a second quarter to the woman tending the till. "How much are your kolaches?"
"Two cents or three for five," she replied. He passed over a nickel and accepted the bag she handed him.
"Pleasure doing business with you," he said, and ducked back out.
When he reached Steve's room again -- really, the man should be kept by someone -- Steve was sitting on the bed, sipping coffee, writing in a notebook with a cheap pencil.
"Plotting?" Tony asked, tossing him the bag. Steve caught it handily and opened it, a delighted look crossing his face.
"Planning," he corrected, taking one of the kolaches and throwing the bag back. "Everything go well?"
"Natasha's ready to make a scene tonight. I'll make some calls from the Malibu later."
"The Malibu, huh?" Steve asked, biting into the sweet pastry. "Palm trees and fake beaches?"
"Lots of pictures of Hollywood stars. Tourists like it."
Steve shook his head. "People. It beats me. So there's the Iron, the Tuxedo, the Malibu, the Resilient -- "
"How do you know about the Resilient?"
"I had a dust-up there when I was lookin' for the Tuxedo."
"You're the one who gave my guy that shiner!"
"Guilty," Steve said. "What's the one on Clybourn called?"
"Hasn't got a name. I only got five big ones; the rest are just little dives for working guys."
"What's the last big one?" Steve asked, looking interested.
"Circus Maximus in the loop, but you don't wanna go there. Lots of dancing girls. Very acrobatic. Good times if you like to pay for it."
"Crook," Steve said, but his voice was affectionate. Tony came up to the bed and slid into his lap, pushing the notebook aside.
"Gonna arrest me?" he asked.
"I'd like to," Steve replied in a low voice. "But we haven't got the time. I gotta get a warrant for your dive, and you have a dinner to dress for."
Tony kissed him, but Steve broke it before it could really get going.
"Later," he said hoarsely.
"Tonight?" Tony asked.
"I can't, I'll be up half the night with this raid, and up early tomorrow to get the stakeout on Modock arranged."
"Your cop cars won't ever catch him," Tony said seriously. "Even the feds' cars won't."
"That's why you have to be up early tomorrow too," Steve said. "You and me are gonna be the second stakeout in whatever car you got that you think can get him."
"Be a lot easier to wake up if you were around to wake me," Tony pointed out.
"Get Jarvis to do it," Steve said ruthlessly. "When Modock sees the paper..."
"I know," Tony sighed, but he let Steve gently nudge him off the bed. "Hey -- you'll make sure Natasha gets out fine?"
"Somehow I don't think she'll need my help," Steve replied, climbing off the bed as well. "But yes, I promise."
"She's my people, Steve."
"And you look after your people, I know. I will too. Now, go," Steve said, herding him towards the doorway. "Be ready to go at eight tomorrow."
"Modock won't be."
"So you've said, but I'm hedging my bets. Go. Enjoy your dinner," Steve said, and Tony found himself on the landing, being eyeballed by an elderly man with a broom.
Later that night, washing off the scratches on his neck in the bathroom at the precinct, Steve was willing to concede that Natasha Romanoff could sell it.
He'd known a lot of hard dames in his life -- his ma, for one, who put up with a drunk for a husband and, after he died, worked every hour God made to make sure her kid was sheltered and fed. There was Peggy, a Red Cross driver who'd taken him under her wing during the war; she'd once shot a man before he could shoot Steve. And there was Rachel during his Bohemian days, an artist's model who'd sometimes fed him and had offered to be his beard.
But for sheer guts, it was hard to beat going for a policeman's eyes with your fingernails. If not for his reflexes, she'd have got him on the face. As it was, he had four deep gouges in his neck from her theatricality.
The raid had gone well, though, overall. Just like Tony had said, the speakeasy was empty except for a few barrels of beer, and Steve had been given plenty of opportunity to curse about how Joe Yinsen's killer must've got wind of what they were up to. They were just carting the beer out when Natasha showed up, yelling in Russian. She'd jumped into a shouting match with him like she had no fear in the world, and she'd been very loud and very clear about Modock's supposed involvement in the killing. Now all he had to do was fill out some paperwork from the raid, put up with some shouting over how he was supposed to let the federal Prohibition agents handle it, and wait.
He taped a piece of gauze over the cuts, pulled the collar of his shirt up as high as he could to hide most of it, and walked back out into the precinct.
"Hey, Rogers, whaddaya want done with the Russian?" one of the officers asked.
"Cut her loose," Steve replied.
"She jumped a cop!"
"These immigrants, they get upset easy," he replied, trying not to make a face at the words coming out of his mouth. "She didn't mean nothing by it, she's probably crazy. Shove her out the back and tell her to run home to her baba."
"Whatever you say," the man grumbled. Steve glanced at Natasha as she was walked out to the street, but he didn't dare linger on her, and all she did was spit at him.
Right about now, word would be spreading -- in some cases encouraged and seeded by Tony -- that some cop was breakin' down gin joints to try and get at some bootlegger's killer. Clint Barton was hard at work on a piece about the crusade, and Steve was more than ready to get some sleep.
"Hey, Mr. Popularity," the switchboard operator called. "Rogers!"
"What?" he asked.
"There's a fella on the line for you. Mr. Anthony Maus?"
Steve rubbed his face. "Yeah, put him through."
"Your funeral," she said, but she connected the call, and Steve picked up at the nearest desk.
"Anthony Maus, huh?" he asked.
"No time for flirting," Tony said on the other end. "Modock jumped the gun."
"I figured he'd wait until tomorrow's paper came out but I thought I'd put someone on his place anyway. My guy just phoned it in from a drugstore near Modock's place. Two of his mugs dragged a third guy in half an hour ago and Modock kicked out all his guests. Either he's about to murder our triggerman, or we're going to have to spring the trap early."
"You know who they brought in?"
"My guy didn't recognize him, but he didn't get a good look."
"We don't have much time, then."
"I don't think so, no. How fast can you get up there?"
"You got that fancy car'a yours ready?" Steve asked. He was aware that a circle of silence was spreading outwards around him.
"Sure, I'm heading up as soon as I hang up."
"I'll meet you. What's this racing car of his look like?"
"Big black saloon number," Tony said. "Engine's pretty loud when she gets going."
"Got it. Stay there, I'll get a taxi."
"If he gets away -- "
"He won't," Steve said, and hung up. "Boys, I need roadblocks up on the roads out of Chicago on the south, our man may run tonight."
"We ain't got a warrant," the Homicide captain called.
"So call it a traffic stop," Steve called back. Cops began running around like crazy, and the switchboard started lighting up. "Someone get on the horn to Evanston and get them on the northern edge of town. We're looking for a large black saloon car with an engine a lot more powerful than it oughta be. We gotta get these boys alive, so try not to shoot first."
"Where you headed?" the Captain asked, grabbing his arm as Steve pulled his coat on.
"I got a guy with a car who can catch him," Steve said.
"Who's your guy?"
"You really want an answer to that?" Steve asked.
"We shoot first, this whole city's gonna go up like a bomb and my boys are on the front line."
"We won't shoot first," Steve replied. "Now let me go or let him go, your choice."
The captain let go of his arm, and Steve hurried out of the precinct, whistling sharply. A cab, idling at a hotel down the street, pulled up. Steve gave Tony's address and, when the man turned around to look at him like he was nuts, added, "Faster you go, the more I pay."
"You're the boss," the driver replied, and the car jumped into the sparse nighttime traffic at an already breakneck speed.
Tony was in front of the mansion when they pulled up, leaning against a cherry-red car with no back-seat and a sleek, speedy look about her. Steve passed a couple of bills over to the driver, calling for him to keep the change as he jumped out. Tony made a come on, let's go gesture as Steve ran across the street, diving into the front seat.
"I got roadblocks north and south," Steve said, as Tony gunned the engine and overtook the taxi easily, screaming its way north.
"Gee whiz, better hope he doesn't go west," Tony replied. "Hell, by now he could've rolled the triggerman and dumped the body."
"Is that his style?"
"Not when things are this hot, but you never know your luck," Tony said. He glanced at Steve, eyes drifting to the bandage on his neck. "Tasha?"
"She's got claws like a cat."
"Remember that if you ever get on my bad side. Or Pepper's," Tony added thoughtfully. "She get out all right?"
"Yeah, they let her go right before you called. You put someone on the house tonight?"
"The law moves slowly," Tony said. He laid on more speed. Steve gripped the dashboard. "Chicago doesn't."
Two blocks from Modock's estate on the southern edge of Evanston, Happy stepped into the road to flag them down. Tony pulled to a stop, then threw the car in reverse and backed up until they were level with him.
"He's still in there," Happy said, leaning in the window.
"Any idea who it is?" Steve asked. Tony shot him a look. Happy looked to Tony, clearly uncertain where the lawman stood in the grand scheme of things.
"We're on the side of the angels tonight," Tony told him. Happy rolled his eyes. "Help the man out, Hap."
"Guy by the name of Duval," Happy said. "Can't really miss him."
"They call him the Gargoyle," Tony told Steve. "He's got a face."
"And a reputation for being mean," Happy said. "You want me to stick around, Mr. Stark?"
"Much as I appreciate the job, Happy, get yourself a hot meal and get home," Tony replied. "We'll take it from here."
Happy gave him a relieved look. "I'll be at the house if you need me."
"Tell Jarvis to keep the rifle handy," Tony said.
Happy nodded and withdrew, and Tony dimmed the headlamps before drifting quietly and slowly down the street, coming to park just before the corner. He had a view of the house from here and, more importantly, of the garage.
"Now we wait," he said quietly. Steve nodded, settling in.
"What do you imagine the odds are of Modock killing him?" he asked.
"Duval's too useful. Modock needs a man like him in his outfit. Even out of town, he could be put to use."
"How d'ya mean? I'd think killers'd be a dime a dozen around a scumbag like Modock."
"The Gargoyle's special. He's not..." Tony considered how to put it into words. "He's cruel, and he doesn't care. He doesn't mind killing but he doesn't mind killing slow, either. There are men who'd have put Yinsen out on the ice and not thought about it, but Duval...he'd enjoy it. He might've watched. Most...most men like me, the men who really run things in this town, they need a man like him."
"Do you have one?"
"No. Closest I get is Thor, and he's a fucking pushover. That's a trade secret, don't share it. They call him the Hammer. He scares the living Christ out of people, most of the time, but he's a kitten. You'd like him. High code of chivalry, Thor."
"How do you get away with that?"
"Charm. Plus I'm smarter than they are," Tony said, still watching the garage. "And I put on a good show."
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Steve pinch the bridge of his nose.
"This can't be news to you," he said.
"It's not that. It's been a long day," Steve replied. "I was hoping to get some shuteye before I had to go chasing the bad guy."
"Knock yourself out. I'll watch the house."
"Nah. Wouldn't be the first time I went all night," Steve replied.
Tony grinned. "Is that so."
"Really? Right now?"
"All the time, sweetheart," Tony replied. "Some night we'll put that to the test. At least, in a way that's more fun than this job."
"Sure," Steve said, but Tony wasn't sure how to read his tone. He shrugged to himself and didn't bother. Tonight, he had more urgent concerns.
They sat in silence for a while; Tony wasn't good at sitting or waiting, but he'd learned patience during the war, and neither of them fidgeted. At last, Tony saw lights going out all over the house, and nudged Steve.
"I see," Steve said, voice barely above a whisper.
"And there's the garage," Tony added, as the wide garage gates swung open. A long black saloon car pulled through. "And that is the car."
"We can't let them get to the state line," Steve said. "Soon as we know which way they're going we can box them in at a roadblock. Or if you can catch them before that, outside of town -- "
"They will shoot us," Tony said.
"We can't get into a gunfight in town, I won't have innocent people dying on my watch," Steve answered.
"Oh my God, kid, you are gonna be the end of me," Tony said, watching the saloon pull past, heading east towards the lake. He pulled out behind it, far enough back that they hopefully wouldn't be noticed. "Okay, so what's your play?"
"We follow until we know where he's headed," Steve said. "If he's about to run into a roadblock, no problem. If he slips 'em, that's where we come in."
There was a click, familiar and not entirely comfortable, and Tony risked a sidelong glance at Steve. He was checking his piece, a sweet Colt Police Positive .38 with a black barrel and wood grips. There was a star carved into the left grip and painted white.
"Not a damn word," Steve said, and Tony looked back at the road. Modock's car was turning south. In the moonlight he could see, for just a second, the creases and furrows of the Gargoyle's hard, cruel face.
"If they stay on Ridge, heading southeast, they'll hit Lake Shore," Steve said. "Only way to go from there is south, it don't run far enough north to hit Wisconsin. We'll have a roadblock there, definitely."
"If your boys did as they're told."
"And if they actually stop and hold him, I know," Steve said. He settled the Colt across his knee.
Tony adjusted his grip on the wheel, downshifted, and followed a hair closer.
Steve was silent and alert as they trailed Modock's big black car down to Lake Shore Drive and then onto it, the lake glittering and frozen on their left, mansions and apartment buildings dark and quiet on their right. They passed the cold, desolate slope where Yinsen had come in off the ice, and then the bright lights of downtown, curving around the jut of Chicago into the lake. When the lights began to recede behind them, Tony spoke again.
"Where's your roadblock?" he asked.
"I didn't give them a street name. I said the roads going out of town. Might not hit it for a while yet," Steve replied tersely. This was what he'd both loved and hated about the war -- hated the waiting, hated the still silence before the boys went over the wall. But the sharp alertness, the pump of blood in the darkness...there was a terrible passion in it. He hadn't liked the war, he hadn't liked killing, but something deep down in him was a hunter, and there was a thrill in giving chase.
Up ahead, squinting into the darkness, he could see a row of lights and the faint outline of two police cars pulled tight across the road. It narrowed to a single lane, and cars were slowing to pass through it --
"There's the block," he said. "Modock's going to have to slow down for it, there's no side road to pull on. Soon as he does, let me out and I'll pull them both in."
"Be careful," Tony said, but Steve was already reaching for the door handle, half out of his seat. "Steve -- "
"Is he -- is he speeding up?" Steve asked, rolling the window down.
"Tony, what is it?"
"Hold onto something," Tony said, and Steve barely had time to grab onto the dash before the saloon car leapt forward and swerved, picking up speed as it pulled across the north lanes of the drive and bumped down onto snow-covered earth. There was a sharp jerk and Tony's car followed, narrowly missing a delivery truck as they zipped through traffic.
"Well, there goes our stealth advantage," Tony remarked, but Steve was too busy holding on for dear life to give a coherent reply. The saloon car crashed down onto the ice in front of them, slid sideways, straightened itself out and took off with a roar.
They didn't slide as badly as Modock's car did, but the ride wasn't smooth, and it took Steve a second to pull his wits together and realize they were on the ice.
"Tony, are you insane?" he asked, trying to hold onto the dash with one hand and his gun with the other.
"I am not letting Modock get to Indiana," Tony replied, picking up more speed. They were flying now, arrowing across the frozen lake, the car settling down to a roar as the ice smoothed out this far from shore.
"How exactly are we gonna stop him?" Steve demanded.
"Don't care. Hey, could you jump?" Tony asked.
"Could I what?"
"If I got alongside him, which I'm pretty sure I can do, could you jump over to their car?"
Steve considered it.
"Hell no," he said finally.
"Well, it was a thought -- " Tony began, when a gunshot rang out. One of their headlights winked out. "Aw, fuck."
Steve could see a figure leaning out of the passenger's side of the saloon car. Another shot, and something pinged off the hood.
"Try not to swerve," he said to Tony, and gripped the edge of the door up by the roof of the car, angling his body out though the window. A bullet whistled past, and Steve returned fire, aiming for the wheels. One of his bullets pinged off the rear fender; a second ripped off one of the side mirrors. The Gargoyle ducked, then nearly fell out when the saloon car skidded. Steve took aim and fired again, but their own car hit the same patch the other had, and the shot went wide.
"I only got six bullets, think you can drive in a straight line?" he yelled to Tony through the window. Tony, grimly, dug a second gun out of the glove box and set it on the dash. Steve concentrated on emptying his remaining three into the car, not that it did much good. He grabbed the second gun and angled himself out again, plastering as much as his body against the car as he could.
The lake seemed to stretch out on all sides of them now, glittering under the moon, the stars brighter than could be seen in the city. The wind knifed through his coat, first chilling and then numbing him, and he'd long since lost his hat, but he kept pulling the trigger whenever he could get a good shot. The firing from the other car stopped, briefly, and Steve leaned back in to yell, "I think they're reloading."
"Good. I got ammo in the glovebox but there's a shotgun behind my seat."
"Of course there is!" Steve yelled, exasperated. "Throw it up to me."
"Kinda need both hands here, Captain!"
Steve slithered back inside, and as he fumbled for the shotgun wrapped in felt and crammed between Tony's seat and the chassis, he caught sight of the odometer. They were doing a hundred and twenty miles an hour, but he was willing to bet they were actually going faster, the wheels gliding over the uneven ice.
"Keep her steady," he said, as he shouldered the shotgun.
"Doing my best," Tony answered grimly.
"For the love of pete," Steve mumbled, but he took what aim he could and fired. Dents peppered the back of Modock's car. It must be armored to hell and back.
The Gargoyle leaned out again, face a mess of pale skin and shadows, and Steve fired the other barrel. The car jerked and swerved, but kept going.
"Think maybe I got a tire," he said, dropping into the seat and reaching for the box of ammunition with fumbling, numb fingers. He risked a glance up as he reloaded his Colt, and suddenly the world came into clear, sharp focus.
"Tony!" he yelled, but Tony saw it as soon as he did; the bluish ice, the cracks and striations and uneven leveling catching shadows in the moonlight. Steve barely had a second to grab the edge of the door and hang on as Tony threw the car into second gear and turned. The wheels skidded wildly, squealing on the slick ice, and Steve jerked against the door as the car turned a full 180 and accelerated again immediately.
Bootlegger's turn, his mind supplied. Tony had executed it flawlessly. The tires screamed against the ice, but the car finally came to a stop, the wheels working against their forward momentum. Steve barely had time for a breath before there was a crack like a gunshot -- but louder, much too loud and lingering. He twisted around and through the open window to look, shoving his head out into the cold night air again.
He was in time to see it happen, though later he wished he hadn't. The ice broke a second time, with another loud crack, and he could see shards jump up into the air like they had a life of their own. Modock's car swerved crazily but far too late; it skidded one last time and crashed through the fracturing ice, slamming into a shelf on the other side of the gap. Water washed up over the edges as the shelf gave way too, and the saloon car's engine died with a shriek and a gurgle as water filled it.
It sank too fast, like it was being pulled down by something under the water, or maybe that was the shock of seeing it happen.
Steve twisted again and yanked himself out of the car through the window, slipping and stumbling towards the hole in the ice, already aware it was probably too late. There was a slam from the other side and suddenly Tony was there, colliding with him on the slick surface, arms around his waist to hold him back.
"They're sinking!" Steve cried, trying to get away. Not quite a truth; the water had already closed over the top of the car.
"They're dead already," Tony managed, wrestling him down. "Steve!"
"We can get them out!"
"You'll die, you fool! You go in that water, you aren't coming back out!"
"Tony, I can't..." Steve tried to scramble to his feet and failed, and when he turned he realized Tony was panting, his face pale, eyes wide and panicked as he held on. "Tony!"
"I'm fine, I'm fine," Tony gasped, around short breaths. "Took a fall, knocked my breath out."
Steve looked back at the hole in the ice, which was gaping wider now, striating and cracking in a slow crawl towards them. There was no sign of Modock or his car, or the Gargoyle. The water was black.
"We have to get out of here," he said, using the trunk of their car to pull himself up with one arm, pulling Tony up with the other. "Can you drive?"
"Can probably drive. Walking maybe not," Tony managed, leaning heavily on him. Steve dragged him to the open door, only half-upright himself.
"Are you sure?" he asked. Tony nodded and fell into the seat. Steve watched for a moment, and then made the mistake of looking back.
He vaulted over the hood, catching himself on the runnerboard. "Drive. Now. The cracks are spreading."
"Shit, shit," Tony said, as the wheels spun. "Shit!"
"Do I need to push -- " Steve started, just as the car jumped into motion as the wheels found purchase. They fishtailed badly, but Tony spun the wheel and regained control, pushing the engine as they sped off. Behind them, ice jumped and danced and fell.
"How are we?" Tony managed.
"Don't stop driving," Steve said.
"Get in the damn car!"
"I'm trying!" Steve retorted, slithering in through the window, legs flailing as he fell into Tony and righted himself. "Go fast. One big break and we're damned."
"You're so kind, so reassuring," Tony muttered, bent over the wheel and still wheezing. Steve watched the ice shatter, but the distance between them and the spreading cracks was growing wider as well. When he could barely see where the water was taking back the lake he turned around, slumping down in the seat.
"I think we're safe," he said. Now that it was over, his skin was crawling, hair standing on end, the shock getting to him. He felt hot despite the chilly air, despite the way his fingers were turning back from blue to red. Tony nodded and kept going.
"We gotta get off this ice before we hit another thin patch," he said.
"Can you follow our tracks back to Chicago?" Steve asked.
"Not on this," Tony answered. "But I think I can get us to a bank."
"Will the ice at the edges hold us?"
"One way to find out."
"Do you mind overmuch if I pray?"
"Say a few Hail Marys for me," Tony replied. "Swear to God if we get out of this alive I will build a chapel to whoever is the patron saint of mechanics."
"Eligius," Steve said, lightheaded and almost giddy.
"Eligius. Patron saint of taxi men and mechanics," Steve managed, as they hit an uneven bump on the ice.
"How the hell do you get to be -- you know what, never mind," Tony said, peering through the windshield. "I think I can get us on ground here."
"Where are we?" Steve asked, staring into the gloom.
"No god damned idea," Tony admitted. "This might get bumpy."
"Because the ride until now's been so smooth," Steve said, hearing his voice rise anxiously. Tony spun the wheel and shifted again, skidding them sideways, drifting and sliding. The gentle slope of a dirt bank, covered in patch snow, suddenly appeared in front of them and with an almighty bump they slammed up onto it, nearly colliding with a tree. Tony cursed again, swerved, and brought them to a stop on a patch of bare ground.
Steve opened the door and staggered out, collapsing on his ass a few feet from the car. He drew up his knees and cradled his head in his hands, feeling out of breath. There were tread marks on the ice, and a fine network of cracks a few feet out.
"Thank you, Aloysius," Tony said, falling down next to him.
"Eligius," Steve replied.
Steve felt the urge to laugh hysterically and the urge to weep fighting it out; he slumped forward and into Tony's shoulder, still gasping for air.
"Hey, hey," Tony said. He sounded alarmed, and one hand clasped the back of Steve's neck. "Easy. Easy. It's 1930. You're in Illinois. Well, maybe Indiana," he added hesitantly.
Steve knew what Tony was doing; he'd done it for himself, waking from nightmares about the war. He reached blindly for Tony's other hand and held onto it tight. It was cold, but not the icy cold of the lake water.
"They went down so fast," he said.
"I know," Tony answered.
"It was so fast. And we couldn't -- "
"No, we couldn't." Tony inhaled slowly. "I wouldn't wish that kinda death on a fella. Not even Modock."
Steve pictured it, the sudden halt and the drop, the confusion, the first rush of cold water. Drowning in the numb darkness, freezing pinpricks as the water caught in the lungs, trapped with no idea of where up even was...
"Oh Christ," he moaned. "Oh, Jesus Christ preserve us."
"Shh," Tony said, pressing his mouth to the crown of his head. "We got out. We couldn't do anything else."
"I know," Steve said. "But I'm the law, I'm not supposed to run a man to death."
Tony hushed him again, and Steve fell silent, pressed up against his warm side. Eventually Tony let go of him and stood up, tugging on his arm to make him rise as well.
"We need to get back to Chicago," Steve said. "I have to file a report, they'll need to drag the lake -- "
"Let's just find a road first," Tony said, getting into the car. "It's going to be a cold drive back. Either I blew out the heater fans or a bullet hit the car somewhere."
"Will the damn thing run?" Steve asked, settling on the seat next to him.
"Long enough to get us home, least I hope," Tony said, guiding the car carefully through the sparse trees and brush. They hit a dirt road pretty quickly, and Steve looked out the window and up.
"North star's over the lake," he said. "We must be in Indiana. Turn right when you find something wider than a cow path."
"Of course you navigate by the stars," Tony said, giving him a fond and only slightly exasperated look.
Steve wasn't wrong, Tony thought, when they hit the brand new tarmac of Route 90. In theory, it could take them all the way up to Chicago, but it'd be a hell of a drive and neither he nor Steve were in a good condition for it. They could stop in Gary for the night, probably find a hotel that would put them up and a mechanic to see to the car, but they'd hit the interchange south first, and he had a better idea.
"We won't make Chicago tonight," he said to Steve, swinging the car onto the southbound road.
"We sure won't if you head south," Steve said, giving him a skeptical look.
"I got a pal owns a farm not far from here," Tony said. "He'll put us up for the night, give me somewhere to park the car and get under the hood."
"Tony, I have to make a report to my precinct."
"And I have to stop and catch my breath at some point. The dead aren't getting any deader. I'm tired, and you're gonna go to pieces if you don't get your head down."
"Might anyway," Steve said, a sardonic tilt to his lips.
"So we'll get somewhere safe and rest. It's not far. Trust me," Tony urged.
"More than I should," Steve replied, rubbing his forehead. But, after a moment, he seemed to pull himself together, re-wrapped the shotgun in felt, and began reloading both his Colt and Tony's handy little .38 Remington. Tony ignored the tremors he could see in Steve's hands as he worked.
They pulled into the farmhouse yard at what Tony's pocket-watch said was just past midnight. A light went on inside, however, and when he climbed out there was a figure in the doorway carrying a shotgun.
"Y'all are on private land," a voice called. "You got a count of ten to get off it."
"Can you count that high?" Tony called back, while Steve raised his arms in a show of innocence.
"Tony?" the voice called.
"I sure could use not to get shot at anymore tonight," Tony said loudly. He could see the shotgun lower, and then Bruce Banner was setting the gun aside and coming down the porch steps, laughing.
"The hell are you doing?" he asked, embracing Tony tightly. He smelled like hops and smoke. "I didn't know you were coming down, I'd have made up a crate for you."
"We didn't know either," Tony said, letting him go. Bruce's eyes flicked to Steve, still standing warily by the car. "It's been a hell of a night, Bruce."
"Come on inside, you'll freeze out here," Bruce said, gesturing at them both.
"This is Captain," Tony said, and Steve shot him a narrow look as Bruce pushed the door open, backing through to offer his hand. "Captain, Bruce Banner, one of my premiere brewmasters."
"Tony's being kind," Bruce said, leading them into a warm kitchen, full of the smell of good food. "Pleasure, Captain."
"Bruce," Steve said, shedding his coat and taking Tony's, hanging them over the back of a chair near the door. Tony settled in on a stool at the big kitchen table, and Bruce put a bowl of stew, still warm from the stove, in front of him. A second one appeared next to it, and Steve took it with a mumbled Thank you.
"Should I ask what brings you here at this time of night?" Bruce asked, taking in their damp clothes. Steve still looked pale and shaken, too, but Bruce wasn't the kind of man to mention it. "Or is this one of those things I'm better-off not knowing?"
"It's a long story," Tony said, at the same time Steve said, "This stew is amazing."
Bruce smiled. "Anything would be right now, I'm guessin'. It's cooked in dark ale," he added, taking down a couple of glasses and uncorking a jug sitting on a windowsill. "Tenderizes the meat."
"There's beer in this?" Steve asked.
"There's beer in anything worth eating," Bruce replied. "Pour you some?"
"No, thank you," Steve said around another spoonful. Tony smiled at him.
"I'll take a glass," he said, and Bruce nodded and poured. "We ran into some trouble out on the lake."
"On the ice?"
"You hear about Yinsen?"
"Well, that problem's been taken care of," Tony replied. He glanced sidelong at Steve, but the man was busy inhaling as much stew as he could, as fast as he could. "It got a little messy. Faster to come here than to Chicago."
Bruce took them both in, seeing more than most other folks would.
"Well, I got a spare room with a bed," he said. "You're welcome to it, and any tools you need for the car come morning."
"Much obliged," Tony said. "How's business?"
"Got a nice pale going, I think," Bruce said. "Might upgrade the still next year too, if the money's good."
"Subtle hint?" Tony asked.
"Better quality's better for everyone, but I ain't interested in full-time whiskey-making," Bruce replied. "Got all I need, which in these days isn't anything to complain about. I do all right, ain't looking to hike my prices."
"Is it just you out here?" Steve asked, slowing down on the food a little.
"Couple of boys help with the brewing, they sleep out in the barn. Got some hands come through for the harvest, but otherwise just me," Bruce said. "I don't grow much. Cash crop, don't have to."
Steve nodded, but Tony wasn't sure if it was agreement or exhaustion. His eyelids were drooping, but at least his hands were steady.
"Come on," Tony said, finishing his beer and sliding off the stool. "Time to sleep. Bruce, wake us after you milk the pigs or whatever it is you do at four in the morning."
Bruce laughed. "No pigs or cows, Tony. I'll get you up when breakfast is on."
Bruce's spare room was cold, and even with the beer warming him Tony was shivering by the time he'd stripped down to his smalls. The bed had plenty of blankets, though, and when Steve got into the bed on the other side he was like a furnace. Tony curled into him, pressing his face to Steve's shoulder.
"Banner don't care?" Steve asked.
"Banner wouldn't care even if he didn't know," Tony answered. "Folks share beds out here."
"S'cause it's freezing."
"You sure are sharp," Tony said with a grin, pressing his cold hands up beneath Steve's undershirt. Steve wrapped an arm around him, fingers digging into the small of his back.
"I can't stop thinkin' about it," Steve said. "Going down in the ice. How cold that water must'a been in their lungs."
"Stop thinking," Tony said, pulling the blankets higher.
"I can't. They died, Tony. We nearly did. I can see it go down so clear..."
"Think of something else," Tony murmured. "You used to paint."
"Tell me what you used to paint."
"Oh, anything," Steve said, voice thickening with fatigue. "Buildings. Whatever I could see out my window. People I saw. I'd draw 'em in the book, paint 'em later."
"You ever think of going into ad work?" Tony asked around a yawn.
"Thought about it. Seemed an awful lot like lying, though," Steve said sleepily. "Made some dough paintin' portraits. Not enough."
"What did you want to paint?"
"Never figured that out," Steve said. His breath was slowing, words slurring. "Never really figured out what I wanted."
Tony didn't know how to reply to that, but Steve didn't apparently need one. His arm went lax, head tilting to one side, and he inhaled a deep, even breath.
"I could get used to you," Tony said softly, before closing his eyes to sleep.
When Steve woke the following morning, it was to the sensation of warmth, but more -- the knowledge that outside of the warm nest where he found himself, it would be cold and unpleasant. He shifted, felt another body against him, and looked down. Tony was tucked under his arm, face buried in his shirt, legs heavy against his. He could smell bread baking, and sunlight was beginning to pierce the heavy drapes on the windows.
"Tony," he mumbled, dislodging the limp form half on top of him.
"Can't make me get up," Tony mumbled, shoving his head under a pillow.
"I could lift you out of this bed," Steve pointed out.
"Romance me, Romeo," Tony replied, but he rolled over and emerged, hair sticking up crazily. "So, I guess last night actually happened."
"Guess so," Steve said, bracing himself as he slid out from the warm nest of blankets into the chilly air. "This place have running water?"
"Cold only," a voice said, and Steve turned. Bruce was standing in the doorway. "Was just coming to get you. There's hot water for shaving in the kitchen, and breakfast laid on."
"Whatever Tony pays you isn't enough," Steve replied. Bruce smiled and disappeared into the hallway.
Out in the kitchen, dressed and freshly shaved, Steve felt more human. But he was also ready to be on the road. It wasn't so much that he was eager to get back, but the sooner he did, the sooner he could file one heck of an unorthodox report and find out what the damage might be. There might be an investigation; hell of a way to start his career in Chicago. But, looking across the table at Tony, who was chewing on fresh bread and joking with Bruce, he thought it might be worth it.
"Settle down," Bruce said, noticing Steve fidgeting. "Car's ready to go, you can be on the road as soon as you're done. You'll make Chicago in plenty'a time."
"You touched my baby?" Tony asked, looking offended.
"I had a look under the hood, tightened up your belts and fixed the fans. Don't know what you did to that headlamp, and you'll need new glass, but other than that it wasn't anything you need a genius for," Bruce said. "I was fixing tractors while you were still in short pants, Tony."
"No you weren't, 'cause you were in short pants too."
"I was fixing 'em in my short pants," Bruce replied. "Now go on. Captain's itching to get back to Chicago, and I left you a gift in the back seat."
"Hot damn," Tony said, laughing. "All right then. But I'm giving her a once-over myself when we get back to make sure you didn't leave me any gifts in the engine, too."
"Only good sense," Bruce agreed gravely. "Nice to meet you, Captain."
"You too, Bruce," Steve said, shaking the outstretched hand.
They were on the road not long after, heading north towards the interchange and home. A few miles out of the farmhouse, Steve saw Tony move out of the corner of his eye, and felt a hand come to rest on his leg, thumb sweeping little strokes over the outer seam of his trousers. He reached for it, and he could tell by Tony's flinch he thought it was about to be removed, but instead he picked up Tony's hand and twined their fingers together. He squeezed briefly, then said, "You're gonna need this back to shift gears."
"I will invent an automatic gearshift purely for the pleasure of not needing that hand back," Tony replied. Steve let it go, but he shot a smile at Tony that the other man received with evident pleasure.
"So what happens now?" Tony asked, when the haze of Chicago was in view.
"Well, if you drop me at a train station, I'll catch the elevated to the precinct," Steve said. "Gotta file my report, set up for them to drag the lake once it's warm enough. Might be an investigation, but I don't think so. I was in pursuit of a suspect, and it's not like they'll find him with a bullet in his head. I won't bring you into it, if you're worried. Far as the Chicago PD is concerned, you're an informant without a name."
Tony smiled. "Thank you, but that wasn't what I meant."
Steve looked at him.
"You asked if we could pretend we didn't have to call it quits. If there is an investigation...well. I imagine you don't want to be the bent cop screwing the gangster."
"That's not what we are."
"It's what the world will see."
"We don't have to decide yet," Steve said.
"Will you come back to the Tuxedo? Now that you don't need to."
"I don't know," Steve admitted.
"You all right? After last night?"
Steve looked down. "Don't know," he repeated. "Guess I will be. You?"
"About the same, I think."
Steve nodded, and they rode in silence until they reached the south loop. Tony pulled the car off at the train station, and Steve climbed out, then leaned back in.
"I'll let you know when the report is filed," he said.
"All right then," Tony agreed, with a grin that Steve could tell was fake. "Look after yourself, Captain."
"You too, boss," Steve answered. Tony's smile curved up a little more, turning genuine. Steve closed the door and tapped the roof; the car pulled off in a splash of melting snow. The hard freeze that had made the lake passable was fading, Steve thought, climbing the stairs to the station. Winter wasn't close to over, but it wouldn't be as bitter as it had been.
He caught the train in and walked into the precinct to a flurry of surprise; the homicide captain leaned out of his office and whistled sharply, gesturing for Steve to join him.
"Where the hell'a you been?" he asked, when Steve had closed the door. "We saw that black saloon you mentioned go out on the ice, and some other crazy fool followin' it, but our cars weren't made for speed like that. Then you just plain don't show up till now, and I don't see you got anyone with you in handcuffs. You want to explain why you come waltzin' in here without a damn thing?"
"Modock was driving the saloon car. Tried to get to Indiana over the ice," Steve said. "He had someone with him, name of Duval. I think he was the one who did Joe Yinsen."
"And the second car? You were there, weren't you?"
"Yeah. Told you I had a guy with a car who could catch him."
"But you didn't."
Steve looked down at his hands. "They hit a thin patch. Car went down with Modock and Duval inside it."
"Nothing I could do," he added, lifting his face, a little defiant. "Nearly went down myself."
The captain gave him a long, hard look. "Whereabouts?"
"Not sure exactly, but I know where we came off the ice."
The captain rubbed his face. "He's dead? Fleeing pursuit?"
"That's about the size of it, sir."
"They'll give you a goddamn medal for this, rookie."
Steve shook his head. "I'd just like to file my report and get home."
"You may not have a choice. Go. Write everything up and run it to the DA's office for a look-see. After that you're off for the day, I don't wanna see your mug around here spilling details until we've sewn it up."
Steve nodded and stood. "I didn't mean to run him to death, sir."
"I know you didn't, kid, but it might not be a bad thing. Go on."
The report took a long time to write, conscious as he was that it was probably going to leak to the press at some point, and that everything had to be clean and accounted for if he wanted to keep Tony's identity secret. Then he took it to the DA's office, where he sat in the hallway all afternoon like a kid being punished while they went over it in detail, asked him four times who his informant was, and gave him the stinkeye when he refused to answer.
By the time it was filed and over with, he was practically off-shift anyway, but Barton collared him in the entryway of the precinct.
"Man, this is a hell of a story. Is it true you killed Modock?" he asked.
"Depends on your philosophy," Steve answered. "I didn't shoot him. You picked that up fast."
"I told you, I know everyone. Smile," Barton added, and then a flashbulb popped in his face. He'd admit Barton was a quick learner; as soon as he reached for it, Barton danced away, keeping the camera out of his grasp. "Gimme a scoop, you owe me."
"For what?" Steve asked, outraged.
"Information on Stark."
"That was your barter in return for not spending some time in the tank," Steve answered. "Plus I gave you that story about the raid. You owe me."
"Well, whaddaya want to know?"
"Nothing right now. I'm holding onto it," Steve replied. "Run that photo and you'll owe me double."
"Aw, nuts. Come on. One juicy detail and I'll keep the photo to myself."
Steve sighed. He was tired and hungry, and he'd been in the same clothes for two days. "Modock died fleeing pursuit, trying to make it to Indiana to avoid an arrest."
"Very political, Rogers. You'll go far in this town. Seeya," Barton said, and tried to go into the precinct. Steve grabbed his shoulder, turned him around, and shoo'd him down the steps.
By the time he got off the train at his stop, all he wanted was to get out of his clothes, maybe cook himself some tinned soup on the hob, and get some sleep. He waved hello to his landlord on his way up, called a greeting to some kids shooting marbles in the hall on the second floor, and stopped when he found a slip of paper tucked in the edge of his door on the third. He took it down and unfolded it.
You have a mouse, it read. Steve frowned. He might joke, but this was a nice, clean building and vermin were pretty rare.
He opened the door cautiously, one hand on his holster, and then relaxed.
Curled up under his mother's quilt, a narrow lump on the narrow bed, Tony lay with his back to him. He was wearing what looked like silk pajamas.
"I'm gonna have to get a cat," Steve said, closing the door behind him.
"Better get a big one," Tony answered without moving. Steve pulled off his tie and coat, tugging his shirt over his head.
"Well, I could always move in with my pal Stark," he continued, unbuckling his belt and stepping out of his shoes. "He's got a nice place."
"You don't think he'd mind?"
"Pretty sure he wouldn't. On the other hand, I like payin' honest rent," Steve said, discarding his undershirt. Tony rolled over, watching him. "Think I'll stay. One mouse don't eat much. How'd you get in?"
"You think I never picked a lock," Tony said. "That's sweet."
"I try not to think about all the things I wish you'd never done," Steve answered, sliding into the bed. They lay there on their sides, faces a few inches apart, until Tony reached up to trace the edge of the bandage still on his neck.
"Been thinking about what we oughta do," Tony said, and Steve kissed him.
"I haven't. Tell me," he ordered.
"I think we oughta improvise."
"Well, you are good at that," Steve said, mock-thoughtful. He kissed him again. "I don't want to call it quits, Tony."
"Thank god, 'cause if you kicked me outta here in this, we'd both be in trouble," Tony replied.
"I see what your plan was there."
Tony's face was still so serious. "I told you we could be magnificent. I know you don't want to belong to me, but I figure we might try belonging to each other."
"Won't be easy," Steve said.
"I never really aimed for easy," Tony replied. "Try. As a personal favor to me."
Steve smiled. "Sure. I can do that."
Tony straightened his bow-tie and stepped up to the railing of the balcony over the Iron, Jarvis joining him with a bottle of champagne in one hand and a bottle-saber in the other.
The Iron was not her former glory, not anymore; nearly all the decoration was gone, including the big gold chandelier, and most of the furniture as well. Still, the turnout was good; a big slice of Chicago society, plus the politicians and a couple of newspaper men. He glanced down at Steve, standing among the crowd, and winked.
"Your attention please, ladies and gents and the rest of you," he called. "Attention!"
The chatter died down and the music stopped. Every face turned up towards him, expectantly.
"We are about two minutes to midnight," he said, grinning at the crowd. "So I thought it was time for a very brief speech."
There was a bit of applause for that, and Tony acknowledged it with a wave.
"Every year, Pepper tells me that she thinks this will be our year," he said, gesturing to Pepper, who was seated on the bar with Natasha, arm over her shoulders. Pepper was wearing the glitziest dress he'd ever seen; Natasha looked swell in her tuxedo. "I never quite believe it, but I think when she said 1933 would be our year, she might have been telling the truth."
Most everyone laughed. Steve grinned up at him and mouthed showboat.
"But now that we are almost a month out of Prohibition, and one minute from 1934, I hope you will join me in a legal toast," Tony said, as waiters began delivering glasses of wine and champagne among the crowd. "I'd like you to toast to the repeal -- " he paused as people shouted approval, " -- the repeal, the new year, and myself," he added, to more laughter, "in my new incarnation as Anthony Stark, restaurateur. You are all invited to the opening of the new Iron tomorrow for dinner -- above ground, within the law, and well-stocked with new Banner Farms beer and very old scotch. Come and eat -- and have a cocktail on me. Now!" he added, as Jarvis lifted the saber. "To friends, fortune, and continuing good luck."
Jarvis whipped the saber around, slicing neatly through the neck of the bottle, and Tony caught the first pour in the flute in his hand.
"Happy new year!" he said, and the Iron echoed with the crowd's answer.
As the cheers went on and everyone kissed everyone else, Tony descended the stairs from the balcony. Steve was waiting for him at the bottom.
"Happy New Year," Tony said, sipping from his champagne flute. He offered it to Steve, who sipped as well. "It's a new world, I feel."
"No, it's the old world," Steve said, turning to smile as Barton's flashbulb popped, then turning back to him after Clint wandered off. "You just got a new place in it."
"Is that so bad, Captain?"
"No, Boss," Steve said, leaning in enough to kiss him behind the ear. "Not so bad at all. But I'm still not quitting the force."
"No reason to, now. Hell, you could be Commissioner in a few years. But if you did -- if, say, your scandalous affair with a former rum-runner came out -- "
"Nothing scandalous about a deep bond of friendship," Steve murmured.
"Oh, certainly, as long as you're the one in the bonds," Tony answered, and Steve hummed noncommittally, but his eyes darkened. "If you did quit, I feel certain someone would step forward to look after you."
"Maybe he would. Maybe I will, someday. For now," Steve said, "How about a dance, Mr. Stark?"
"1934," Tony said, as Steve tugged him through the crowd towards the dance floor, "is going to be a very good year."
Chapter 4: Coda: Nice Work If You Can Get It
Steve swore he'd never be a kept man, but a lot can change in five years.
This is a sort-of, could-be sequel to Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do, my cop-and-gangster AU set in Chicago in the early 1930s. This isn’t necessarily what did happen after -- but it’s what could have. Written for Wanderriha and Scifigrl47.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Afterward, Steve wished it had been more dramatic -- he wished he'd stormed into the commissioner's office, or the mayor's, and thrown his badge on the desk or something similar. He should have, he reflected. But instead, he simply cleaned out his desk (never very cluttered to begin with), typed his resignation letter, and left it on the blotter. He didn't know who found it or who turned it in to the commissioner, and he was sure he didn't care.
He should have sent a copy to Clint. Clint would have published it in the paper, and Steve's vitriolic excoriation of Chicago's civil service could have maybe had some effect. But he didn't think of it until later.
He just resigned from the force, viciously and permanently, burning his bridges behind him the way Steve tended to do.
The corruption of the Chicago police department has been known to me for some time, but I could no longer collude with it when I became aware of the extent of the graft and the abandonment of any thought of civil service at its highest levels. I resign in vocal protest over the behavior of the Chicago police and the Chicago mayor's office and its morally reprehensible refusal to serve the people to whom it swore service.
It was noon when he resigned, a brisk, chilly Friday in September of 1938. He walked out of the precinct with a few valuables in a satchel -- a framed photo of himself with Tony and Pepper, a small booklet of news clippings, a favorite pen -- and went to the Iron.
"Good afternoon, Detective Rogers!" called the maitre'd, as he shed his hat and coat in the reception room of the best restaurant in Chicago. "Get you seated in just a minute, I'll have someone lay out your table."
"No need," he said, giving her the best smile he could muster. "I'll just have a sandwich at the bar. Check this for me, would you?" he added, handing her a satchel. "I'll pick it up next week."
She looked perplexed, but nodded. "However you want, sir. Mr. Stark's on the premesis, shall I let him know you're here?"
"Sure, tell him I'll be up after I eat," he said, giving a nod to the mirrored glass of the Iron's second-floor office, overlooking the dining room, just in case.
The Iron was a classy place and didn't normally do a devilled ham sandwich, but Steve knew the sous chef kept a couple of cans of the stuff on hand just for him. He picked at it for a while, not really hungry, and only managed half a pint of Bruce's new Banner Farms stout before he gave up and went upstairs to see Tony.
A lot of the mystery of the Upstairs Office had faded since 1934, when Prohibition was repealed and Tony took all his speakeasies legal. These days, at least as far as Steve followed Tony's byzantine business dealings from what he overheard, Tony was big on convenience foods, and had some kind of New Deal contract. He was on the phone with someone about some canning plant somewhere when Steve let himself in; he looked up, beamed, and waved him into a seat, excusing himself on the phone and hanging it up as soon as he could get away.
"Right on time!" he said delightedly. Steve gave him a grin and nodded. "I assumed you'd get some last-minute horrible gristly murder and miss the plane."
"Nah, I wouldn't," Steve said, coming to lean on the desk next to Tony's chair. Tony rested a hand on his thigh, beaming up at him, and Steve gave him his best fond look in return. "Nobody gets killed in the middle of the day anymore, anyway."
"This is Chicago, someone's always getting killed," Tony replied. "Not that I'm not pleased you're off the hook for them. Even if you could still get away you'd be chewing on it all weekend."
"Nothing to chew on," Steve assured him, which was technically true. "When do we hit the airport?"
"We should probably leave soon," Tony said. "Jarvis is loading the bags, and there's a car service waiting for us in Los Angeles. We have most of today and all day tomorrow to look at land for the studio, the party is Sunday, then Monday if I like what I see we'll do the signing."
"Look at you," Steve said, letting the tension of the morning slip away. "Are you more excited for Pepper and Natasha's party or for Stark Picture Studios to finally get off the ground?"
"Baby, I'll make you a star," Tony said, laughing.
"No thanks, I'll stick to backstage," Steve replied, and bent to kiss him.
"It's really Pepper's baby anyway," Tony said. "It was always her idea to go into motion pictures, and now with color and all, the time's right. She's lining up a government contract as we speak."
"Government contract for pictures?" Steve asked, eyebrows rising.
"Sure. Health videos, public service films, that kind of thing," Tony said, but there was an odd flicker in his eyes. "The military's going to need a lot of films made in the next few years, I guess."
"Well, you'd know better than I would," Steve said.
"I usually do," Tony replied, amused, and pushed out of his chair. "Come on, Captain."
"You got it, Boss," Steve said, and followed Tony out with a lighter heart than he'd entered.
He'd wait until after they got back to tell Tony he'd left the force. Tony'd been looking forward to this trip forever, and there was no reason for him to be a stormcloud over Pepper and Natasha's party.
Officially, the party on Sunday afternoon was a housewarming; Pepper and Natasha had purchased a smallish mansion in California -- bigger than anything Steve had ever lived in before he'd met Tony but smaller than Tony's palace in Chicago, a long, low villa with huge windows looking out on the water.
Unofficially, Pepper had finally suggested one day to Natasha that their informal arrangement be made permanent, and there had been a quiet, private exchange of rings with a few close friends before the party. Steve, who hadn't even considered that you might formalize this kind of thing, had asked Tony if they ought to, sometime; Tony said he'd given Steve the prettiest gun he'd ever owned and did that count for nothing?
The party was swell, anyway, full of friends out from Chicago and some of Tony's people who had followed Pepper and Natasha west to help get the studio started. And there were movie stars, too; Pepper hadn't been idle. Steve saw Simon Williams dancing with Whitney Frost, and Cary Grant ran some annoying fella off Judy Garland, then hovered around her for a while to make sure the fella stayed gone, which was nice of him.
"Brilliant party your Potts puts on," said a voice at Steve's elbow, and Steve turned and found himself looking down at a man with messy hair, a faintly familiar face, and an English accent.
"Yeah, it's a nice spread," Steve agreed. "Not quite the company I'm used to, though."
"You're out from Chicago with Mr. Stark, aren't you?" the man asked. The way he asked it was curious, and Steve's guard went up a little.
"Steve," he said, offering his hand. The man looked at it and then looked at him, laughed, and shook it.
"You don't know who I am?" he asked.
"Not the faintest idea," Steve confessed. "You look familiar..."
"Charlie," the man said. "As in Chaplin."
Steve stared at him.
"Pleasure to meet you," Chaplin said, and shook Steve's still-outstretched hand. "I know, the makeup and the hat are deceptive, aren't they?"
"Little bit," Steve managed.
"The curse of comedy," Chaplin agreed. "Listen, not to talk business at a party, but I came over to say hello because I hear you're the man who can put in a good word with the studio if, say, one wanted first crack at a Stark Pictures deal."
Pepper, Steve reflected, was a very good saleswoman indeed.
"I'm sure he'd be happy to talk to you, Mr. Chaplin," he said. "But really, the person to sweet-talk is Miss Potts. Or her personal secretary Miss Romanoff, if you want to be sidelong about it."
"Miss Romanoff?" Chaplin said, looking intrigued. "Well, I'll bear that in mind. Cheers!" he added, drifting off into the party.
"You're a shorn lamb out here," Tony said, coming up behind Steve as Charlie Chaplin (Charlie Chaplin!) walked away. "He won't be the last to try to kiss your ass to get to me."
"Who should I let through? Clark Gable?"
"Last year's news. I want some unknowns to make waves," Tony said. "But you're not wrong, it's up to Miss Potts and her personal secretary. I'm just bankroll and figurehead."
"They do look nice together," Steve said. Pepper, in a pale cream dress, was making nice with a movie director; Natasha hovered at her elbow, and Steve was probably one of the only fellas in the crowd who knew she had a couple of knives stashed somewhere under the brown linen suit she wore. Natasha might be a lady of leisure now, at least in relative terms, but old habits died hard.
"Still time for you to be my personal secretary, you know," Tony teased, nudging him in the ribs. "I'm very lenient about typing and of course you'd get to sit on my knee while you took dictation."
It was an old joke, but it felt new and raw-edged to Steve. "I thought you wanted me to be your portrait painter," Steve said. "What was it you said that one time? Your vanity required at least one portrait of yourself a week?"
"Something like that," Tony said, looking sideways up at him, under dark lashes, eyes curious. "Imagine you remembering that."
"What if I were?" Steve asked.
"Were what? My kept man?" Tony grinned.
"Sure. What if I chucked it all in the alley and let you pay my way?"
Tony's hand brushed his, casually, and Tony leaned in.
"Well, I'd give you a trust fund and a fancy penthouse in the city, for a start."
"I already live in your damn mansion," Steve pointed out. Well, it was closer to his precinct than his old one-room studio with the murphy bed, and it had more kitchen than the basin and hot plate he'd had before.
"So? Every prize ought to have at least one appropriately decorative box to be kept in," Tony said. "And I'd take you out and buy you the nicest suits, the kind you can't wear when you're a cop, and we'd be on the society page all the time."
Steve realized Tony was enjoying this -- this pretend-play, as if it were a game Steve had started, and maybe in some way he had.
"I'd take you with me whenever I went to Cuba or California," Tony continued. "And at parties like this I definitely would not let you get close enough for a two-bit movie star to dazzle you away from me."
"Is that so?" Steve asked.
"Come say goodbye to Pepper and Natasha," Tony told him, leading the way, and Steve followed. The crowd naturally parted, letting them through to Pepper.
"Thank you so much, Mr. Vidor, I'll keep that in mind," she said to the man at her elbow, and turned to Tony. "Leaving already? You haven't dried out the bar yet."
"I'm a perfect schoolboy, and you're cruel," Tony said, kissing her cheek. "Enjoy your party. Don't let anyone woo you." He took Natasha's hands and kissed them; Natasha let him, rolling her eyes. "Look after her," he said.
"When do I ever do anything else?" Natasha asked, allowing Steve to kiss her cheek, then Pepper's.
"We'll see you tomorrow," Pepper said. "When you buy me my movie studio."
"Not a minute too soon," Tony agreed, then rested a hand in the small of Steve's back, guiding him towards the door.
The hotel they were staying in for the weekend was discreet and lush; there was a big glass door from the sitting room right out onto the deck of the swimming pool. Tony began stripping out of his suit as soon as they were in the bedroom, but instead of reaching for Steve, he reached for the swimming trunks laid out on a pile of fluffy towels in the corner of the room.
"Why don't you do a few laps?" he suggested to Steve, who frowned. "You look like you have some energy to spare."
"What are you going to do?" Steve asked, shrugging out of his shirt.
"Watch," Tony said, with a dirty grin. Steve took the hint and pulled on the trunks Tony handed him. They were high-waisted and cut high too, and he wasn't sure they flattered him, but Tony seemed appreciative as he trailed Steve out to the swimming pool. Steve saw him settle on one of the divan chairs with a little placard reading RESERVED FOR T. STARK before he dove into the mostly-unoccupied pool, well away from the kids splashing around in the other end.
He did a few laps, settling into the rhythm with surprising ease, and he could almost feel his mind clearing -- no city politics, no strange parties full of picture stars, no complicated question of when and how to tell Tony what he'd done. Just easy strokes, inhaling and exhaling, and the fight of the water against his muscles.
By the time he climbed out of the pool he felt the empty kind of calm that comes after a rush of adrenaline, almost sleepy.
Tony was propped on his elbows, stretched out on the deck chair, a magazine ignored in front of him as he watched Steve walk across the deck and pick up a towel to ruffle through his wet hair.
"All this California sunlight suits you," Tony said, pushing himself off the chair and closing the magazine. "You look like a young Adonis."
"I'm nearly forty," Steve reminded him, wrapping the towel around his waist.
"Still younger than me," Tony replied, tucking his fingers into the towel and tugging gently, just enough to get Steve to follow him inside. He was dripping on the pretty Turkish rugs in the sitting room, but when Tony drew the curtain across the glass door and stepped out of his trunks, it was tough to care.
"I still do think about it, you know," Tony said, leaning up to kiss him, hands tugging his swimsuit down. "Keeping you. Having you all to myself. I know it wouldn't make you happy, but..."
"Maybe -- " Steve started, then stopped, unsure how to continue, and kissed Tony instead. He let Tony tug him into the bedroom, with its big broad made-up bed, and follwed him down onto the silk comforter, burying his face in Tony's sun-warm skin.
"That's it, sweetheart," Tony said in his ear, pinning him there with a leg thrown around his hip, arms around his shoulders. "Got you all to myself for now, anyway."
Steve nodded and pressed down into him, seeking out warmth and comfort, grasping wildly for either. Tony kept talking, even though he knew Steve wasn't much of a listener in bed. Maybe because he knew.
He talked about what he'd do if he had a fella like Steve to keep on his arm all the time, what he'd buy for him and where he'd take him, how he'd show him off -- Tony was invulnerable, too rich to be trifled with, and could do as he pleased, but there were things they couldn't do when Steve was a cop and Tony was outside the law, back when, and things they still couldn't do now that Tony was mostly legit, because it would threaten Steve's place on the force.
"I'd keep you in bed for days," Tony said, as Steve bucked and thrust, breath heaving. "Feed you meals from my hand, keep you naked so long you forget what clothes feel like. Take all my business calls in bed," he added, laughing, and the vibration of his deep laugh through their bodies made Steve's breath catch. "Come on, doll," Tony said, voice lowering. "That's my man -- "
Steve made a soft, almost strangled sound and came, trembling, and felt Tony follow; Tony loved that feeling, he knew, the tension of his body when he was on the edge. They usually got a little more...well, Steve would call it elaborate, in bed, but sometimes this was easier.
He summoned the energy to slide to one side, clinging close for the heat Tony's body was still giving off. Tony turned his head, expression loose, face relaxed.
"Nice to dream for a little while," he said. Steve nodded. "Enjoy it, hm?"
"Yes," Steve admitted, reaching up to run a thumb over one tip of Tony's goatee, the hair always startlingly soft. Tony's lips twitched under his touch.
"Do you want a big party like Pepper and Natasha, really?" Tony asked. "I know I joked about the gun, but we could. If you wanted."
Steve shook his head, fingertips still tracing Tony's face, the furrows here and there where age was just beginning to make itself known. "I knew what you meant about the gun."
Tony caught his wrist in one hand, kissed the pads of his fingers, and sat up. "I'm a mess," he said. "I'm going to wash and you should too, you reek of whatever it is they put in pools to keep the germs out."
"And romance is dead," Steve announced, but he rolled off the bed and followed Tony into the palatial bathroom of the suite. The shower was just a bare head over tile next to the bath; Tony turned on both, ducked through the hot water to rinse himself off, and then climbed into the bath, reaching for a little jar of oil nearby and pouring it in. Steve followed, turning off the shower and then waiting for Tony to lean forward so he could settle in behind him. Tony gestured in front of himself, so Steve shrugged and stepped into the hot water. He sank in up to his shoulders, head leaning on Tony's shoulder, and closed his eyes. Damp fingers ruffled his still-wet hair.
"Something's eating you," Tony said, and Steve tensed. "No, wait, listen to me. I don't need to know what it is," he continued, one hand holding Steve's forehead, keeping him where he was. "I thought it might be Pepper and Natasha, but clearly it's something else. Maybe some case, maybe you don't like California, maybe you got indigestion from that weird fruit they put on your eggs this morning."
"Avocado," Steve said.
"It was green fruit, you can't trust it," Tony said.
"It wasn't the avocado."
"Well, okay, but the point is," Tony said, "I don't have to know. You'll tell me in your own time, you always do. But you know I got nothing against killing a man if there's someone needs killing. You know I'd do anything you wanted. You know the kind of man I am."
"Really seriously, Tony," he said, "This was -- nice, the...playing around. But if I needed -- if I wanted keeping."
"I know you well enough," Tony said. "You'd never need keeping, Steve. And I can't imagine you wanting it. You'd be bereft without something to do. Mind you, I know you don't get to work on your art as much as you want, and you'd never let a gallery show it while you're still on the force. But can you really say you'd be happy?"
"I don't know."
"If you wanted to be kept by me," Tony said, "I'd dance a jig. I would get you a penthouse. I'd plan out six months of parties and dinners. If you let me, I'd buy you new suits. But all of that's just a glossy magazine feature, you know, the life of the wealthy man about town. If you really wanted a quieter life, I think that'd be fine. I'd like to wake up at nine and eat breakfast with you without the rush to get to the precinct. I'd like to see you home every night because you're not out talking to witnesses. If it's snowing, I'd like to stay in with you, not send you out to some crime scene where the snow's about to hide all the evidence. So yes. If you wanted to be kept by me I'd keep you with a light heart, and I'd never once be sorry. But I don't know that you do. You never have. And you'd have to be the one to choose."
Steve inhaled steam, exhaled. When he was thirty-four, he'd angrily rejected even the idea of being owned, being kept; he and Tony had fought it out once, early on. He was angry at the world then, because there didn't seem to be a place for him in it, and angry at Tony because Tony made places for people who didn't have them, but he did it illegally, so Steve still couldn't have had it.
He wasn't angry anymore -- at least, not at that. But the old helpless feeling had come back, hadn't it, that what he wanted of the world and what he could have were so frustratingly difficult.
"Two months ago they took me off Homicide," he said, and he could feel Tony making an effort not to ask. "They put me on a new vice squad. Corruption."
"Internal affairs?" Tony asked carefully.
"Not exactly. We were supposed to look into grift in the city government."
"Aldermen," Tony surmised.
"And the mayor's office, office of the City Clerk, office of the judiciary. And the commissioner's office," Steve added.
"Sounds like a good job for an honest man," Tony said quietly. "You didn't tell me you were off Homicide."
"It wasn't a promotion," Steve said. "Didn't take long to see it was a clown school. They weren't interested in busting the machine. Just in a song and dance to say they had."
"What've you found?"
"Voter fraud. Bribery. Nepotism on a scale you wouldn't believe, and you know how awful Chicago politics are. And it's nothing I'm allowed to prove," Steve said with a sigh.
"So what happened on Friday? Something brought all this up."
"I wasn't going to say anything until we got back."
"Well, that's kind of you, but you're the worst liar, my darling," Tony said. His fingers drummed on Steve's forehead gently.
"I quit," Steve said.
This time Tony did tense. "You quit?"
"The force. I resigned in protest. Left a letter on my desk. Left it, went to the Iron, had a sandwich, went and found you," he said, and Tony kissed his temple.
"You are the most immovable, unbreakable man I've ever met, and I had dinner with Meyer Lansky once," Tony said.
"Hasn't done me any favors," Steve pointed out.
"No. Then again, I've profited significantly from it," Tony pointed out, and Steve snorted. "I still have pull, you know. If you regret it -- "
"No," Steve said. He felt weary at the very idea. "No, I don't regret it, I don't want to go back and I never once used your influence for my own career. That's beyond the pale. But I don't know what I should...do with myself. I don't know what's right to do."
Tony was silent for a while, long enough for Steve to drift a little. Finally, he said, "Would you like to go out somewhere to dinner? We have the car service, we can go anywhere."
Steve thought about it, but the idea of a hot meal in a quiet dining room, with soft seats and nice lighting, sounded suddenly very appealing.
"Yeah," he said. "I'd like a steak. Somewhere expensive."
He felt Tony smile into his hair. "You got it, pet."
The next morning, Steve woke late; Tony was breakfasting outside, and apparently conducting business if the telephone on a little stand near the breakfast table was anything to go by. Steve pulled a robe on over his pajamas and settled into a chair across from him. There were a couple of bathing beauties sunning themselves across the pool, eyeing Tony with obvious appreciation. Their heads turned when Steve appeared, but soon enough they renewed their covert attention to Tony.
"Would-be starlets, I think," Tony said cynically.
"Half your age," Steve replied.
"Hadn't you heard? I'm off the market," Tony told him.
"I did hear you've been laying out cash on some floozie," Steve agreed.
"Don't you dare," Tony told him, laughing. "Eat fast. We're meeting to sign the papers for the land this morning and Pepper'll have your ass if I'm late."
"She does know how to leverage your weaknesses," Steve agreed.
When they were fed and dressed, with Steve's hair neatly combed and Tony's tie approved-of, they met Pepper in the lobby of a shiny art-deco-gothic building near the new studio land. A small army of lawyers and real-estate men were with her, and Steve followed them all into a lushly decorated elevator, ears popping as they ascended. When they reached the top floor, they spilled out into a penthouse foyer that was all geometric designs and gold leaf, dazzling in the light through a big rose window at one end.
"Gentlemen, Ms. Potts," said one of the real estate men, leading them past the window and into a big, airy reception room. "This way, if you please."
"Who the heck owns the land you're buying, Rockefeller?" Steve asked in an undertone.
"Why, what've you heard?" Tony replied, grinning.
"Who lives here? This place is de-luxe," Steve said.
"That it is," Tony agreed, as the lawyers held a conference. Pepper kept an eye on them, and Tony seemed content to spectate, so Steve wandered over to the windows, peering down the hallway. The whole apartment seemed pretty empty. Through one of the windows he could see a small swimming pool, accessible through what must be the bedroom.
From behind him, he could hear Pepper murmur a few instructions, and the scratch of pens; he turned in time to see Tony sign one document, then another. Some paperwork changed hands, mostly into Pepper's, and then someone handed Tony a keyring, which was strange. The land they'd bought didn't have a single building; they were going to have to spend at least a couple of months putting sound stages up.
Tony caught him watching and his hand flicked out; the keys caught the sunlight as they arced through the air. Steve caught them, perplexed, and saw a few of the lawyers give each other knowing looks.
"What's this about?" he asked. Pepper patted Tony on the shoulder and began to herd the lawyers out.
"Well," Tony said. "I took it out on approval, but I thought you might like somewhere de-luxe to put your feet up."
Steve gaped. "This place? For us?"
"This place," Tony agreed. "It's close to the studio, and it might be -- I mean I thought you might want to get out of Chicago for a little while. There's space for a painting studio."
"Tony..." Steve looked down at the keys.
"Look, don't be mad, we really do need a place out here and -- " Tony began, but Steve cut him off with a kiss.
"It's a swell retirement gift," he said, grinning at Tony.
"Well, it doesn't come free," Tony grumbled.
"No, I demand at least an hour a day of you cavorting in the pool."
"I think I'll be able to oblige," Steve said, looking around at the penthouse. "You're really going to close up shop in Chicago and move out here?"
"Seasonally? Sure. None of the restaurants really need me to be there, and I'd have been out here a couple of years ago but the love of my life was sorta attached to the place," Tony said. Steve flushed. "We'll go back for Christmas, and maybe in the spring. Or sooner if you want to. But I thought, you can paint in California as well as anywhere, if that's what you want to do, and we can certainly do absolutely nothing in California as well as anywhere. Besides," he added, "I asked Pepper and she said the studio will need a head of art direction. You could be in pictures, pal."
Steve turned to the giant rose window in the entryway, looking down on the city spreading out in one direction, the undeveloped valley in the other.
"So you just started fixin' up my life for me, huh?" he asked Tony, smiling.
"Well, I'm auditioning for the part," Tony admitted. "I'm pretty qualified."
"I'll consider your application," Steve told him. He looked around at the bare penthouse, now very obviously decorated just enough to try and get someone to buy it. "You couldn't have thrown in some furniture?" he asked Tony, who cracked up laughing.
"Be nice to me, I had to throw this all together on a morning's notice," he said. "I promise we'll go on a spree and get some. We'll buy out Marshall Fields and ship it to California or something."
"It'll do for now," Steve replied loftily.
It took weeks for the penthouse to be what Tony deemed livable; the pool had to be cleaned and all the furniture moved in, the kitchen renovated, a bathtub put into the master bath; Steve's studio had to be stocked and fitted with a sink and the windows enlarged. The bed arrived disassembled and had to be put together by a specialist. Tony had two of his cars shipped out from Chicago and bought a third specifically for driving around Los Angeles.
Steve paid vague attention, but he'd never been much one for decorating. He left Tony to his madness, and spent most of his time reading novels by the hotel pool, or visiting with Pepper and Natasha. He caught himself, more than once, thinking that he oughta go check on the precinct or that he had somewhere he was supposed to be, but the feeling faded with time, and the hours seemed to fill up anyway -- social calls, invitations to golf or to tour a studio, evening movie premieres to go to. Steve had always liked the pictures, anyhow.
Their first morning in the penthouse, he woke up early and left Tony still sleeping, padding quietly past the rose window and into his studio. There was an easel set up, but he'd put a pad of newsprint on it instead of a canvas -- it seemed better, somehow. People bought canvases, sure, but he'd always liked paper better, and now he didn't have to concern himself with what people bought.
Although Pepper had asked him to do some drawings for Stark Pictures' first film. He hadn't read the script yet, but he'd read the old Wizard of Oz books when he was a kid, and he could probably start on some designs pretty soon. Those could wait, however -- for now he'd please himself and nobody else, except maybe Tony.
He was halfway through the sketch he'd begun, just shading detail on the goatee of the profile, when a pair of arms wrapped around his waist from behind and the smell of coffee made itself known.
"I'm thinking of doing a series," Steve announced, and got a sleepy grumble as a reply. "Portraits of a patron of the arts."
"Yes, I know I'm vain and wanted portraits, but you were supposed to sleep in now that you're not working," Tony complained into his shoulder.
"It's not exactly the same," Steve said, setting the pencil down and leaning back. "I can come back to it later."
"There's breakfast," Tony suggested. "Concierge sent it up. More green fruit."
"Avocado. It's probably really good for you," Steve said.
"I'm not eating it. California can stuff its fruit, tomorrow I'm having hash browns and steak."
"Fine," Steve said tolerantly, untangling them so he could slip off the stool. "Come on, Boss. Your kept man wants his breakfast."
Scifigrl47: Always fun when some part of his brain is like, IT WOULD BE SO MUCH EASIER TO JUST BE A KEPT MAN.
WandererRiha: I formally request more from that 'verse.
copperbadge: It's so out of character for him but there is at least one version in my head where he totally does become Tony's kept man :D
low fur: What would it take though for Steve to decide to become Tony's kept man?
copperbadge: Oh, well, it's not so much what it would take as what he would be
low fur: Like, in a cracky version of Civil War, where he just goes "not signing, not compromising, I'm going to be Tony's kept man"?
copperbadge: He'd do it for his art, I think, he'd quit to become an artist.
copperbadge: He might just absolutely lose his shit eventually at the ongoing corruption in Chicago and be like SOME DAYS I WISH I WAS JUST A PAINTER
Scifigrl47: Sam, write us the porniest kept man fic.