Steve wasn't a fan of meetings. It wasn't a problem with bureaucracies - as an officer, the army had pretty much trained that out of him - or an issue with authority - again, didn't get through life in the army with a hatred of authority figures. He just tended to feel, and act, irrationally guilty about whatever it was he had been called in to be reprimanded for.
It didn't help that he was so unsure of every step he made in this new time - there were all these rules that nobody had bothered to tell him, and even more that they'd tried to cram into his head and he struggled to remember.
(Like, no, he didn't need to be told it was okay to be gay now, he'd always known it was okay, though it was nice to see that it wasn't considered a disease by the general populous anymore, but yes, he did need to be told that it wasn't good to refer to people as 'coloured' any more.)
All he'd done was talk to a reporter. She'd been very nice, and unfailingly polite, and was really very pretty. How was he supposed to know that she'd turn everything he said into "- a Goddamned PR nightmare, Rogers!", as Fury was currently yelling at him.
Really, really, not his fault.
"You, are supposed to be the level-headed, All-American, wholesome, charming, adorable and publicly acceptable face of the Avengers Initiative!" Steve opened his mouth to protest the 'adorable', but Fury seemed to be on a roll, and this was probably a bad time to be a smart-ass. "I'm supposed to have to worry about Stark being plastered all over the front covers of every single magazine New York could possibly sell for doing something stupid, but you-"
"Ah, Fury, darling, speak of the Devil, and the Devil shall appear!"
Luckily, Stark never thought it was a bad time to be a smart-ass. Steve turned, for the first time in fourty minutes breaking his parade stance to watch Stark approach from behind him.
Stark was looking abnormally sleek today - Steve had gotten used to his casual, action-and-workshop ready attire of faded band T-shirts and old jeans from the Helicarrier. He looked even more professional than the get-up he'd been in when they'd gathered to see Loki and Thor back to Asgard.
His suit was a subtly shiny dove-gray, paired with a pristinely white shirt and a plain black tie. His vest was an eye catching, fire-engine red, the same colour as his suit. Stark was shedding clothes as he approached them, however, shaking a black pea-coat off one arm at the same time his other hand was unwinding a scarf from around his neck. Reflective sunglasses shielded his eyes, but his mouth was all cocksure grin.
"Stark," Fury barked, although he didn't look entirely surprised to see him, "What the hell do you think you're doing? I'm conducting a private meeting, and-"
"Believe me, Commander," Stark interrupted, prompting a very interesting vein to appear in Fury's temple. He tossed his coat across the back of a chair with a negligent twitch of his wrists, and draped himself across it before finishing his sentence, "This is more important."
Steve decided that, as Stark's more immediate commanding officer, this is probably where he should step in.
"Cap!" Stark cried, as though surprised to see Stever standing there, "Wonderful picture in the news the other day! I think they managed to capture that whole 'Kicked-puppy-who-stumbled-unintentionally-onto-Mars-but-golly-gee-isn't-it-great-to-be-here look really well. And that article, so intelligently written."
Steve flushed, and was definitely prepared to lay into Stark, but he was already being ignored. Again.
"I told you to let me - and by me I mean the PR department at my company - handle the publicity and interviews for the Avengers. This hyena wouldn't have been allowed to even breathe the name 'Captain Steven Rogers' in the general direction of a keyboard before she was slapped with enough lawsuits to make Lindsay Lohan jealous," Stark snapped at Fury, making Steve blink. Was Stark… defending him? He had to be dreaming.
"Stark, we were - and are handling this situation proper-" Fury tried to say, but Stark interrupted again with an aristocratic hand wave. Seriously, where did this guy learn to emote like that?
"Not important, Commander. Just wanted to say 'I told you so'. That's not why I'm here. I'm actually here to threaten you with enough lawsuits to make Lindsay Lohan jealous."
Fury actually stopped and blinked at that one. Steve thought he might have to sit down soon.
"What?" Fury finally said.
"Don't take it like that, honey. Mostly, I don't mean it. If I meant it, you'd be getting this talk from Pepper, she's much more terrifying than I am. No, I really just want a good explanation for why you decided to sell the vibranium-synthesis project - which I know you managed to get your hands on when Tony Stark was officially hired as a 'consultant' to the Avengers team, don't try to lie - to HYDRA. Of all the fucking people, seriously?"
"What!?" Steve snapped, not knowing who to glare at harder, "HYDRA still exists?!"
"Well, yeah," Stark said, after a few beats of stunned silence. "I mean, I think SHIELD tried to get rid of them after the war, and I know my Dad spent a lot of time buying up shares and cleaning up management when it became clear the company wasn't going anywhere, but with trying to help Germany rebuild itself it really wasn't going to do any good to completely dismantle one of the only self-sustaining, viable, scientifically minded companies just to replace it with foreign investors who don't care about - No. You will not distract me with a history lesson, Capsicle." Stark glared at him, and Steve wished he would have just kept talking - Somehow, it wasn't so overwhelming when Stark told him things almost too fast for him to keep up. "What we should be worried about is Why they know how to make vibranium." This, again, was directed at Fury. "Pepper's being absolutely fucking terrifying at some very powerful people right now, but international copyright law is a colossal disaster, so who knows whether that will even fix anything, because it likely won't fix anything on time. The only reason Iron Man isn't across the Atlantic right now burning down every building ever visited by anyone connected to HYDRA is that they didn't get sold the arc reactor plans - if they had those, I might have taken SHIELD down too."
"It wasn't us," Fury replied, tapping at one of those paper-computer things. Steve still had trouble navigating his phone, and he knew it was probably a decade out of date.
"Well, it sure the hell was not us!" Stark yelled, then took a deep breath, and calmed himself down. "Anyway, what I really need is for SHIELD to draw up paperwork demonstrating that there was intent to sell the ability to make vibranium to SHIELD for the making of Cap's new suit. That should help us demonstrate that the plans were not free-access for every one of our business partners."
"Cap's getting a new suit?" Fury asked mildly at the same time Steve demanded, "Stark Industries is business partners with HYDRA?" Stark only felt inclined to answer one question.
"He'd already have a new suit if you let me do my job. Don't think I don't know about all the prototypes for the Avengers Initiative you have hiding in the basement. The workmanship on his last suit was shoddy at best. And don't even get me started on Natasha's sub-par weaponry. Or Barton's arm guards."
"Fine. We'll see what we can do about getting something that looks passable as soon as poss-"
"Not necessary," Stark interrupted again, "Well, likely not necessary. I assume some poor minion's been assigned to try and sort Coulson's paperwork, can't make heads nor tails of it, and still hasn't worked his way through any kind of appreciable portion?"
"That's an accurate summary of the situation. We have another 'minion' trying to just re-do it all."
"I guarantee you Coulson already had paperwork to this effect drawn up months ago. He mentioned to Pepper in passing that it was a shame international copyright law was such a mess. Tell me you wouldn't have been suspicious," Stark rattles off, spinning idly in his chair. "Give me ten minutes with his files to find what I'm looking for. I'll even let Agent Hill peer annoyingly over my shoulder to make sure I don't steal anything really exciting. Hell, give me an hour with the files without Agent Hill, and I'll organise and decode everything for you."
Fury was silent, appraising Stark calmly, while Stark continued to spin like he hadn't a care in the world. Like this didn't matter to him at all. Steve had an inkling that it mattered to him very much.
He wondered if Stark was dizzy yet.
"Fine. One hour. I assume I don't have to tell you where anything is. Or give you a key," Fury barked, sitting down. Steve wondered if his meeting was done too. He didn't know whether to thank Stark or lecture him for being so… so.
"Darling Commander, you are the light of my life," Stark sang, springing up.
"You're taking Captain Rogers with you," Fury continued like he hadn't heard Stark at all. "I'm done yelling at him."
"Don't be a party pooper, Capsicle," Stark agreed, tone warning, pointing sternly at Steve, who glared back. "Oh, and when was the last time Barton left the building?"
Fury snorted. "If we could get eyes on him, I'd tell you."
Stark hummed, scooping up his things and redoning them in a graceful flurry of limbs. "I'm taking Barton home with me. I need a new action figure to play with."
"He's all yours, Stark," Fury dismissed blithely, while Steve's jaw dropped. What was wrong with these people? They couldn't just pass Agent Barton around like a toy. And what did Fury mean, they couldn't find Barton? What had he been doing?
Stark was practically at the door, however, so Steve jogged to catch up. They almost collided when Stark leaned back into the room to say, "And I want all the plans for the Avenger's Initiative things sent to the Tower as soon as possible. You didn't shut us down when Coulson died, which means you're not going to. You hired me as a consultant," Stark said, and his tone was as serious as Steve had ever heard, "So let me consult."
Fury didn't acknowledge Stark's comment at all, but Steve thought he looked like he was considering it.
Stark strode down the hallways of SHIELD, apparently going nowhere in particular, his coat billowing behind him. Steve kept up, but he had to work at it, which was ridiculous, because Stark was actually not very tall.
"So Rogers, seriously, what happened with that reporter chick? Don't worry," Stark assured before Steve could even open his mouth to reply, "I asked the Legal and Public Relations departments at the company to put together a defamation of character lawsuit together anyway. Don't feel bad," he said, misinterpreting Steve's grimace, "They do this all the time. I can't even count the number of times they've filed these on my behalf. I think they have a stock lawsuit filled out, actually, and they just change names and dates as needed…" Stark mused, finally giving Steve a chance to speak.
"That's really not necessary, Stark. Besides, I'm sure she didn't mean to-"
"Oh, no," Stark cut him off, and Steve was just as annoyed - but not entirely surprised - to find that it wasn't just Fury he talked over. "She absolutely meant to, Steve. Trust me on this one. Why did you come back, anyway? I would have let Fury yell at me over the phone from the other end of the country. Unless you've managed to finish your Great America of the Modern Era Tour, which I doubt. You had to have missed some of the sights. World's Biggest Ball of Twine? I hear we have that. Mount Rushmore? The Grand Canyon? Did you visit any great restaurants? Apparently, you can download maps that show you every stop Guy Fierri ever made on 'Diner's Drive-In's and Dive's' to try their food…"
"What?" Steve asked as soon as there was a lull in the babble, in which Stark not only stopped talking but stopped walking, tilting his head endearingly to one side. Seriously, what was with this guy? And what was a diner dive in and… drugs? Drags? What had he said?
"Barton, why are you hiding in the ceiling?" Stark asked of the empty air, not even looking in Steve's general direction. He tipped his sunglasses up his face to glare viciously at a ceiling tile. He'd definitely lost it. "And where is your delightfully terrifying Russian better half?"
"Better half?" the ceiling right above Steve replied, making him jump about three feet in the air. Holy shit. "I don't think so, Stark." As he spoke, a ceiling tile was lifted free, Barton's floating face appearing in the inky black.
Stark rolled his eyes at him. "She's certainly much pretty than you are. And scarier. Let's go, Legolas, out of the ceiling. Time to rejoin the rest of the Fellowship."
"Does that make you Frodo?" Barton asked as he dropped lightly the ten feet down, officially leaving Steve in the dust. They were definitely not speaking English anymore.
Stark looked thoughtful, even though Barton's tone suggested he should be insulted. "I think I might be. If only because Bruce is obviously Sam."
"What, no pet names for Banner? He just get's to be Bruce?" Barton teased, as Stark gestured impatiently for everyone to start walking again.
"Oh no, I never call him Bruce to his face," Stark explained earnestly. "He's 'Brucie' at the very least, 'Science Bro' when he's being especially clever, 'pookie' when he's feeling a little green and wants to punch something-"
"I can't imagine that helps the situation any," Barton smirks, and finally, someone has interrupted Stark instead of the other way around.
"Well, I'm still trying to Hulk-proof the suit, so worse things could happen," Stark mused, prompting Steve to choke on his own surprise and outrage. Barton and Stark turned to look at him.
"He's a person, Stark, and he has feelings," Steve growled, "You could at least take those into consideration before you try to provoke him into doing something dangerous and very, very harmful for a lot of people."
Stark glared right back at him, and there it was, that bite that Steve had seen on the Helicarrier. "You don't know anything about him, Captain. How much have you actually talked to the guy? No, stay quiet. I don't expect you to understand what Bruce needs as an individual, or even what anyone needs here as a team, considering you were supposed to be a leader, and you hared off as soon as the opportunity presented itself, but don't presume to think that I am not the best god damned thing that ever happened Bruce Banner." Stark was snarling now, and Steve really, really hadn't intended for any of this to happen. "What do you think we should do with him, Rogers? Lock him up? Tie him down? Send him back to India to serve a penance he doesn't deserve, weighed down by guilt he shouldn't feel? No? Being alone is the worst possible thing for Bruce. He knows it, and notice, he didn't go to you, to be coddled and accommodated? He's an adult. He can look after his own god damned feelings."
Steve opened his mouth to retort, but Barton has shaking his head violently over Stark's shoulder, slashing his hand viciously from side to side in front of his throat. He looked at Barton, really really looked at him, and noticed just how worn flat the man looked, and lost all the will to fight about it. So they all stood around in awkward silence for a while.
Stark, of course, was the one to break it. "Go pack your things, Barton, you're coming with me. I drew up some plans for your bow during the 28th hour of my latest insomniac streak, and I'm pretty sure they're legit, but I can't be assed to learn to fire a bow, or come here to drag you to the Tower whenever I need someone to try it out," Stark whined, peering at Barton hopefully over his sunglasses. Barton appeared slightly shell-shocked, and more than a little disbelieving. Stark sighed. "You're moving in, Clint. No arguments. Get your things. You can't actually want to stay here, don't even lie. Scram, Katniss." Barton scrammed, almost skipping, and valiantly trying to hide it.
Stark resumed walking, and Steve jogged to keep up. He cleared his throat. "That was nice of you."
"Barton shouldn't be alone either. He took Agent's death harder than he should have," Stark explained, apparently unaware that things were supposed to be awkward because they had just been fighting, tapping quickly at his phone. It took Steve a second to realize that 'Agent' was Coulson. "I'd have kidnapped him sooner, but I didn't realize SHIELD was stupid enough to ship Comrade out of country without him."
"Comrade?" Steve asked, giving up on trying to follow Stark's ramblings on his own, resolving to just ask when he was lost. The worst Stark could do was tell him something else he didn't understand.
"Romanova? Scary Russian-ninja assassin? Okay, look, I know for a fact that Stalin and Communism were in your time," Stark complains, thoroughly put-out that Steve isn't following his brilliance.
"Uhm, yes," Steve said, because he did in fact remember his life seventy years ago as though it was six months ago. "Are they still calling each other 'Comrade'?"
Stark stopped outside of a grey door (which looked like all the other doors in SHIELD) and stared at him, eyes huge and liquid-dark, disbelieving in his face - he'd tipped his sunglasses down so he can look Steve in the eye.
"No, Rogers, no they don't," he says evenly, but Steve's heard that tone - the one that means 'I don't know why you don't understand what I'm saying' - enough times to start blushing. "I mean, they might," Stark continues, considering now, eyes staring into the distance, "I don't know, it's been a while since I was in Russia, wow, it's been a long ass time since I was in Russia, maybe I should get on that, actually now that I think about it Pepper's been nagging me to visit the Stark Industries offices in Europe and Asia, and Moscow was probably on that list, God, my Russian must be so bad by now, do you think Ninja Barbie would help me practice?" Stark looks at Steve beseechingly, as though he's been carefully following everything Stark's saying.
"For God's sake, whatever you do," Barton says, reappearing seemingly out of Steve's shadow, "Do not call her that to her face. Or in her general vicinity. Or while you're in the same building as her."
Stark smirks at Barton, and then starts walking again - apparently, they were waiting for him. "I may have a death wish, Robin Hood, but I'm not stupid. She left the country this morning."
Barton's mouth falls open, and then he glares at Stark. "How do you know that? I didn't even know that."
Stark smirks. "Romanov may or may not have broken into a Stark Industries building in Florida to appropriate some prototypes that I may or may not have shipped to Miami to be 'worked on' by the R&D department down there. Security may or may not have been under orders to ignore any ninja-like activity."
Barton continued to stare bug-eyed at Stark. "Did she know that you knew?"
Stark frowns at him. "Why are you confused that I'm trying to help? Goddammit, people, you hired me, of course I'm going to make sure you have tech, and untraceable money, and fake ID's-"
"You make fake ID's?" Barton said wonderingly, which only made Stark throw his hands into the air. Steve had to hide a tiny smile.
"I make artificial intelligence systems smarter than every Ivy League graduate EVER," Stark growled, "Of course I can make fake ID's!"
Steve leaned against the wall beside the open office door, trying not to fall asleep as Stark did incomprehensible things to a computer and filing cabinet Steve assumes used to belong to Agent Coulson. He'd been at it for fourty minutes now, and it started to get really boring thirty five minutes ago, when Stark had shooed him away from the papers he was trying to help organize.
Agent Barton hadn't even tried. He'd planted himself in place outside the office, leaning on the doorjamb facing inwards. A few times, Stark had paused in his mad rambling to ask Barton to translate some form of shorthand that Agent Coulson had (apparently) developed himself. He got this pinched, devastated look on his face whenever Stark did, but it was never enough to stop him from answering, so Steve didn't intervene.
"Holding up alright, Captain? I heard Fury was laying into you pretty hard today," Barton asked quietly, not taking his eyes off Stark. Steve doubted that meant he wasn't paying absolute attention to his surroundings.
"Heard, as in someone told you," he asked dryly, "Or heard, as in…"
"Momma always warned me off eavesdroppin', Cap'n," Clint drawled earnestly, turning gigantic eyes on Steve. He snorted.
"Whatever you say, Agent."
Barton grinned at him. "Call me Clint. How goes your Great American Tour, anyway? Is it everything you hoped it would be?"
Steve frowned slightly. "Why does everyone know that I was travelling around the country?" When he'd left, all he said was that he needed to get away from the non-memories of living in Brooklyn again. Granted, his explanation were pretty vague, but that didn't explain everyone knowing what he had been trying to do.
Barton just lifted an eyebrow at him. "Stark, apparently, can track Natasha when she's trying not to be found. I doubt he even has to be really awake to find you."
Huh. Well. That was both gratifying, and slightly creepy.
"Well, I guess the trip was fine. Is fine. Up until the part with the press and Fury yelling."
Barton - Clint - grinned. "That would be enough to ruin anyone's vacation. Are you heading back out as soon as you're done here, then? You haven't made it through the northern states yet, have you?"
Steve shoots him a sardonic look, to which Clint replies with another innocent face.
He's not buying it for a second.
"Yeah," he sighs, "Soon. My motorcycle's starting to ride a little rough. You wouldn't happen to know any decent mechanics, would you?"
Clint's eyes widen again, though not in jest, and he makes the same frantic 'Abort! Abort!' motion with his hands. When Steve just stares blankly, he hisses, "Dude! Don't say stuff like that where Stark can hear you!"
It's too late though, because when Steve looks at Stark, the genius is glaring at him. The effect is slightly ruined by the fact that Stark's somehow managed to get a paperclip stuck in his ruffled hair.
"What was that, Rogers?" Stark snaps, standing and stretching. His spine popped with a series of loud cracks, and though it made Steve want to wince, Stark didn't seem to notice at all.
"Oh… Er… Just that my, uh, bike probably needs to be seen by a mechanic," he says hesitantly, resisting the urge to look back at Clint for cues. "And… uh, I just wanted… y'know. A recommendation on where to go, though I'm sure that SHIELD has someone who's supposed to look after that kind of thing so I'll just-" Thankfully Stark cuts him off.
"Oh. My. God. You are trying to kill me!" Stark groans, beginning to clear up the stuff he was working on (or, at least, toss the things he'd thrown on the floor into some semblance of order on the desk). "Seriously, Capsicle, if you let a SHIELD mechanic fix your bike, I will shoot myself. Ask me if I'm bluffing."
Steve doesn't really want to know if he'd bluffing.
"Er, sorry, Stark," he tries, shuffling around awkwardly, "I mean, obviously, I would have asked you first, it's just I didn't know that you… Er, y'know. Did that."
Stark's eyes narrowed further. "Did what?"
"Uh… mechanic… things?" Steve ventured, wincing when Stark clenched his jaw. "I mean, I just thought you were an engineer! That's what everyone told me!" he said plaintively, desperate enough to play the 'Look at me, I'm from the fourties, isn't that swell? I don't understand anything you're saying to me' card.
It seems to work, because Stark stops trying to eviscerate him with his eyes, and Clint mutters "Nice save" behind him.
"Fine," Stark says dismissively, twirling into his coat and scarf once more, in a move he must have practiced in front of the mirror. "Just, if you let anyone else look at it while you were on you walkabout, please, please don't tell me about it."
So Steve didn't tell him about it.
Stark made him and Barton wait for him at SHIELD, saying that he would be "Right back, seriously, do not move, I will break all kinds of traffic laws on my way back, do not go anywhere," before climbing into the back of a car with deeply tinted windows that peeled gracefully into traffic.
A few more minutes passed with idle small talk, though Steve couldn't say that Barton looked particularly interested. His hands flexed liked he wished he was holding his bow, and even though his sunglasses covered his eyes, Steve was sure he was studying all the buildings for… whatever it was he was worried about encountering in the middle of the day in New York.
They lapsed into silence, which was slightly uncomfortable on Steve's part, but Clint didn't even seem to notice, which actually helped.
Not twenty minutes later (which wasn't enough time to get anywhere in New York, unless you were Tony Stark) a cherry red convertible pulled up, towing a flat-bed carrier. Clint snorted, laughing at the eccentric genius. Stark laid on the horn in retaliation.
"Get your bike, Cap, what are you doing?" Stark called, not making a move to get out of the car. "Hurry up! My time is extremely valuable, and I'm not wasting it all waiting on you!"
Clint didn't even pretend to offer to help, vaulting over the door of Stark's car to settle in the passenger's seat. Stark squawked and complained about scratches. Steve was left to walk around the building to the parking complex, retrieve his bike, walk it back around the corner and load it onto the carrier before climbing into the back of the car. At least Stark had had the foresight to bring a four-seater, even if the back seat was so cramped that Steve had to sit diagonally to fit.
Again, conversation was impossible, as the combination of wind and blaring music meant Steve could barely hear himself think. Clint and Stark seemed to be having some sort of discussion, however, albeit the kind that involved a lot of hands reaching for the stereo controls (Clint) and other hands knocking them away (Stark).
They slowed abruptly back down to within the speed limit as soon as they came within Stark Tower, which was surprising to Steve - he'd have thought that Stark would be more inclined to speed where he literally owned the land…
His reasoning became more clear as soon as Steve saw the vaguely-familiar redhead standing outside the massive front doors to Stark Tower, one hand on her hip and a glare on her beautiful face. She pointed at Stark as they approached, and then jerked her thumb back towards the building. Stark gestured at him and Clint, and then at the bike before shrugging and continuing past the increased force of her furious glare. Stark blew her a kiss; she flipped him the bird.
Clint turned around to wave cheerfully at her before they disappeared around a corner, responding to Steve's questioning look with a mouthed, "Pepper Potts".
Steve nodded. Most of what he had read about Stark seemed to be at least partially connected to Miss Potts.
At the back of Stark Tower was a narrow driveway that led to a massive underground parking lot - this one was filled with employee vehicles, though very few people drove anywhere in New York, so 'filled' may have been a bit of an overstatement. They drove through another set of doors, entering a garage (or a workshop… it was rather hard to tell) that had a line-up of expensive cars down one side, and a series of gleaming metal cupboards down the other. Stark pulled the convertible into the space obviously meant for it, and the music finally cut off.
Stark jumped out of the car, ignoring the door, apparently forgetting the stern lecture he'd recently given Clint, who very pointedly opened his door, slamming it closed as obnoxiously possible after Steve had climbed out behind him. Stark ignored this as well, in favour of asking, "So, Captain Fancypants, where does it hurt?"
And so Steve started describing the various inappropriate noses the bike was making, the way something clicked when he made right turns, and the funny wobble when he made left turns, the blinking headlight, the shaky mirror, the-
"Can I see your helmet?" Stark asked, voice muffled as it echoed out from inside the bike. Steve wasn't sure how Stark had managed to get his head inside a motorcycle, but he was getting very up-close and personal with the insides of Steve's engine.
"What?" Steve blinked, nonplussed. Had Stark been listening to anything he said?
"Yes, yes, I'm listening, now get me your helmet, and then go away, this bike has been massively abused, was the last guy who worked on it a farmer? Don't answer that," he said as Steve opened his mouth, "I can tell that he was. It might take a while to get this pretty darling back up to snuff, so you might as well chill here for a while. Help Princess Merida move in, or something. Her room is on the 70th floor."
"Why do you know who Princess Merida is?" Clint snickered as he dropped down from the rafter he'd been inspecting, hefting his duffel bag off the trailer with one hand. Steve handed his helmet to Stark, who promptly dropped it on the ground beside them.
"Rhodey has nieces," Stark replied, appearing from under the bike, cheek smeared with oil, "How do you know who Princess Merida is?"
Clint just shrugged, a dark look settling into his eyes as he headed for the elevator. Steve followed him, and Stark's shrewd gaze followed them both until he disappeared from sight.
The elevator doors snicked shut behind them with a quiet hiss, but neither Clint nor Steve made any move towards the panel. Tony hadn't told them where they should go after they had unpacked all of Clint's worldly belongings into his 'room'. Really, it was more of a suite. From what they could tell, his room was an entire floor.
And the elevator had more buttons than Steve wanted to contemplate.
"Uh…" Clint said, looking similarly daunted. "Any idea where we're meant to go?"
"If I might make a suggestion, sirs," a cool English voice interrupted before Steve could reply, and the elevator started moving. Steve jumped about five feet in the air, and Clint froze.
"Uh… Hello?" Clint ventured cautiously.
"Hello, Agent Barton," the ghost replied, sounded vaguely amused now. "My name is JARVIS. I apologize for startling you, I thought that Sir would have made you aware of my presence."
"Oh! You're Tony's computer!"
Clint whistled, low and long, catching Steve's bewildered expression and taking pity. "You remember that dossier SHIELD gave you on the things that technology can do these days?"
"Some of it…" Steve muttered. It had been a really long list.
"You got the version that ignores everything Tony can do, because not even SHIELD knows everything that Tony can do slash has done slash just hasn't got around to building yet. JARVIS is Tony's Artificial Intelligence system. He's basically a really, really smart computer. Or, you could think of it like Tony built a person who literally knows everything, plus also runs Tony's life for him."
"An accurate, if not complete description, Agent Barton," JARVIS said as the elevator slowed to a stop. "If you desire any further explanations, about my programming or anything else, Captain, please, feel free to ask."
"Uh, thanks…" Steve said as the doors opened smoothly. "Is there anywhere I should go to talk to you?" Standing around in an elevator asking his questions of the empty air might feel a little weird, but he'd do it if that's what it took.
"Anywhere, Captain. Sir has installed my systems in all of the Tower's private spaces."
"Oh, sweet!" Clint yelled from where he was plastered against the windows, "I mean, I know I've been in here before, but it looks a little different when the place isn't trashed."
Now that Steve was looking around, he recognized the room as well; this is where they'd peeled Loki out of the craters the Hulk had made with his body. Speaking of… Steve crossed the room in a couple long strides, until he was standing in the exact spot Loki had been in - he knew it was here, because instead of filling in the floors, Tony had cleaned out the craters and then had them covered in glass. He laughed ruefully, shaking his head.
"Yeah, Tony thought it was pretty hilarious," a voice said from behind Steve. Both Clint and Steve whirled to see Doctor Banner lurking in a hallway, leaning casually against the doorframe. "Kept saying that other people had towers in New York, but nobody had one where the Hulk had done the redecorating." Banner pushed off the wall, coming a couple steps into the room, but staying well back from Steve and Clint. "Well, that's what he said anyway."
"You don't believe him?" Steve asked, and Banner gave him a crooked grin.
"Tony very rarely says what he means, but he means everything he says. You learn to parse out what's actually important after a while," Banner explained somewhat cryptically.
"You might have to teach me that trick sometime, Doc," Clint said, sauntering over to shake Banner's hand. "Nice to see you again, by the way."
"I'll let you know if I ever do figure it out," Banner said wryly, shaking Clint's hand warmly, "I'm just repeating what Pepper said to me when I moved in here. You might want to go to her for her 'What to Expect When You're Living With Tony Stark' speech sooner rather than later."
"Oh, I'm not moving in permanently," Clint said, waving his hand, "I'm just here while Tony needs me to test some of the weaponry he's designing. SHIELD will probably have me back in the barracks, as soon as I'm cleared for active duty again."
Banner just smirked at that. "Keep telling yourself that, kid. And what's your story, Captain? This a transient living situation for you too? You never did finish your tour of the US, did you?"
Steve frowned a little (apparently everyone had known exactly where he was at all times). "Well, no. Fury called me back to talk about an article before-"
"Yeah, I saw that," Bruce interrupted, smiling reassuringly. "I wouldn't worry about. Tony was really angry about it. He yelled at his Legal department for, like, an hour over it. I don't think he's ever talked to them for so long in his life, they were a little surprised to hear from him."
A soft ding interrupted their conversation, alerting them of the arrival of the elevator. Stark emerged, wiping his hands off on a rag, wearing his suit pants and a grease stained wife-beater. For a second, he looked so much like Howard that Steve's chest twisted a little bit with a now-familiar throb.
"So, Capsicle, I think I'm just going to build you a new bike!" Stark announced before he was even all the way out of the elevator. He reached out to poke Banner in the side as he passed, a manic grin stretching his mouth wide; Banner didn't react beyond rolling his eyes.
"What!" Steve squawked, choking a little on nothing, and Clint slapped him (un)helpfully in the back a couple of times. "What did you do to it, it wasn't that broken!"
Stark looked at him, mildly surprised, from behind the bar, pouring himself a glass of some doubtlessly obscenely expensive liquor, gesturing at everyone in offer. Clint accepted eagerly.
"What? Nothing, no, your bike is fine, I guess, for a limited definition of fine. Couple of parts were taking a little bit too much stress, so I've ordered replacements to be made. Also, the funny wirbling noise when you turned was your helmet, not the bike. So I got a new one of those made up too. It'll be ready to go before the end of the day. But I'm still going to build you a new one. This one is fundamentally flawed. That one will be ready in three days. Two if I get hit by another insomniac streak. One if I don't attend any of the meetings Pepper has scheduled for me."
"Don't do that!" Banner snapped, scowling at Stark. "Pepper's going to start cutting off my lab budget if you keep skipping meetings."
"Two days," Stark promised Steve solemnly, winking at Banner.
"Ah, that's really not necessary," Steve refused firmly but politely.
Stark just rolled his eyes.
Steve left two days later, heading West, on a bike with significantly more upgrades than he thought were entirely necessary. He'd lost track somewhere in the beginning of Stark's explanation, and still wasn't completely sure that Stark hadn't just built him a new bike and made it look like the old one.
Steve headed West, following a vague desire to see Seattle, but for the first time since he'd started the journey, he also had a vague desire for a timeline.
He thought about Clint, about an Agent being taken off duty for something he wasn't responsible for but punishing himself for it anyway. He thought about a stack of unsigned, bloodstained cards, a dusty office no one could make heads nor tails of, and a memory locked inside everyone seemed afraid to touch. He thought about a fluffy haired, innocuous doctor isolating himself first in the slums of the worlds and then in an ivory tower, keeping the world safe at the expense of himself. He thought about a master assassin, a world away and always in danger, too far away to let herself get attached to anything.
And he thought about an obnoxious, self obsessed, maniacal genius, the only one who thought to bring all these strays together, and the only one who looked like he might succeed at it.
And Steve found himself with more than a vague desire for a timeline, now that he had a place to go back to.
[Hello, dear readers, this is your Captain speaking! Thank you so much for reading, and extra special thanks for any reviews/favourites, they really mean a lot to me!
BTW, does anyone know if you can say 'fire a bow'? I know it's properly 'cast an arrow', not 'fire an arrow', but 'cast a bow' sounds really, really weird.
Also, I'm pretty sure I read the Tony-covers-the-Loki-craters-with-glass thing in another fic once upon a time, and was like 'Yes! That sounds like a such a Tony thing to do! Head-cannon accepted!' but I can't even kind of remember what fic that was from. So, total credit to whoever that genius is!