The Nine Tailed Foxx
((A/N: No, I haven't forgotten about my other stories. Just waiting on one muse to step back and let others have some time.
A wonderful thanks to my friend Lady Moonhawke, who is also my co-writer, co-conspirator, Idea tester, plot hole finder, monkey wrench thrower, and ghost editor.
This is a continuation from my story 'Games'.))
When paths cross unexpectedly.
Johnny glanced at the clock as he checked on his orders for his last table of the night. One more hour and he could clock out for the night. Presuming of course, there was no other last minute sittings for his sections. While he waited, he assisted one of the newer servers in loading up his tray in such a way that it would stay balanced for him.
"Johnny! Orders up!"
"Thanks," he called back as he snagged a tray and gave it a quick wipe down before loading it up. Picking it up, he took a moment to balance it then was out the door.
Thirty minutes later, he was returning the receipt. The trio were regular enough customers since he started working there, that he spoke to them by name. It wasn't uncommon either, for him to escort Mr. Murdock, who was blind, to and from their table. "Ms. Page, Mr. Nelson, Mr. Murdock. Have a pleasant evening."
"Thank you Johnny," Mr. Murdock said as they reached the door.
"Be careful out there sir. The temperature has dropped since you came in and the sidewalks are probably covered in patchy ice by now," Johnny replied, holding the door open to the foyer open for the trio. As he made his way back to the kitchen, he checked with the other servers to see if they needed assistance with anything. Once back in the kitchen area, he checked the clock again before heading to one of the stools near the time clock. Just as he was about to sit down, the manager rushed in, more frazzled than usual for a Tuesday night.
The manager grabbed him by the arm, turning him to the left then right as he looked Johnny up and down. "Go wash your face and hands, change your vest and apron then get out there. Your section, Table for six. Special VIP customers."
"What? Why? I'm close to going off shift," Johnny said, gesturing to the clock. "Why can't you seat them in one of the other sections?"
"Your section is empty which will give them some privacy and you were asked for by name. Recommended it seems by one of your regular customers," the manager said as he started motioning for Johnny to start moving.
"Who?" Johnny asked as he ducked into the employee restroom to do a quick cleanup.
"One Mr. Murdock of Nelson & Murdock."
Johnny paused a moment then sighed. It was going to be a long night. He nodded to the busboy who usually took care of his section. In return he got a thumbs up. The table was ready. He picked up the menus, made sure he had his pen and notepad in his vest pocket and a clean towel tucked into the top of the apron. Taking a deep breath then letting it out, he stepped through the doors to the main room. He approached the group standing near the door to the foyer area, stopping an arms length from the group and waiting a few seconds for a lull in their conversations. "Ladies, Gentlemen. Welcome to Cantellines. Your table is ready," he said as he motioned towards his section. "This way please."
Johnny eyed the setup critically for a moment. Two of the four person tables had been pushed together, then covered with the best linen tablecloth reserved for VIP/superstar guests. The place settings were the best crystal and sterling silver. The manager had pulled out all the stops for this one, he was doing some major sucking up it seemed. He kept his pleasant expression plastered on his face as he waited for the party to choose where they wished to sit.
"Yeah. No. That's not going to work."
"Sir?" Johnny questioned, head tipped to the side. He looked the party over once more then looked at the table arrangement. "Ah, yes. I see…" he nodded. "If you don't mind waiting a few moments I can have the tables rearranged."
"By all means, knock yourself out."
Johnny looked to the other members of the party. Once he received affirmatives he set to work. It didn't take much to move the tables and chairs around. "Will that work, Sir?" he asked as he motioned to the new setup.
There was a consensus that the new table arrangement was as good as it would get for the room layout. Tony Stark and Pepper Potts took the side of the table that afforded the best view of all the room exit points, it also put Ms. Potts, who had the least combat experience of the group, in the most protected spot at the table. Across from the pair was Natasha Romanoff and Bruce Banner, both able to watch for anything that could get behind the other couple and able to see at least one exit each. And the two end points were taken up by Steve Rogers and Clint Barton. Rogers was sitting in a spot that put him on the first line of defense since other than Banner, he would be the one most likely to survive anything thrown at him. As for Barton, his spot afforded him the best view to keep track of everything.
'In for a penny, in for a pound,' Johnny thought as he gathered up the menus once more. 'I should have called out.' As he moved around the table, it was with the ease of someone in their own environment. As he started to hand the menu to Stark, he shifted and handed it instead to Potts with a flourish and a smile. Now that Stark was watching him, he took a second menu and wiped it down, front, back and center then opened it and placed it before the billionaire at the edge of his place setting. Easy to read yet doesn't have to be touched. He handed Barton, Roger and Banner their menus, then offered Romanoff her's, waiting until she took it. His next move was to fill water glasses, again the ladies were first, Stark's was wiped clean and a bottle of high end water was set next to the empty glass, the rest he filled and set in place. "Lady's choice of wine tonight? or would the gentleman prefer to choose?"
Choices were made, orders placed, small talk ensued between the occupants of the table. Johnny made sure glasses were kept topped and anything, within reason, that was asked for that the restaurant could provide, was provided. He neither hovered nor did he ignore them. He was there when required, but always stayed just at the edge. Mostly he was deflecting attention from other customers and the staff. He even kept the manager away from the group, giving them at least the illusion of privacy. And when asked, he'd answer questions about himself.
"So tell me Johnny," Ms. Romanoff, Natasha (or Nat to her those close to her) started "What happened after you were let go?" she asked, lifting her wine glass for a refill.
Johnny hummed softly as he slid two fingers under the wine glass's base before he started to pour. "From whom and which time?"
"Spring, 2006. SHIELD."
"Ah, that time," Johnny said off hand. He glanced at the rest of the group around the table, seeing how their attention was now focused on him. "After I was released from SHIELD custody my.." a few seconds pause, "guardian...picked me up again. It took a few months but I was able to get away from him again." He placed the near empty bottle on a side table.
"Again?" Mr. Rogers asked, voicing the question he knew was on the rest of his teammates minds.
"Yes. I was free of him for several years before I had… little choice but to return."
"You make it sound like this guardian of yours was a horrible person," Ms. Potts observed.
Johnny just smiled. "A guardian is always a horrible person when they are not liked by the child in question."
"So what changed? From then to now," Mr. Rogers asked, blue eyes bright with curiosity.
"I grew up," Johnny replied with a grin. "The rest are my secrets to hoard like a miser with his gold."
"OOooo.. I love secrets. Big secrets, little secrets, dark secrets and not so dark secrets. Everyone has secrets. Some secrets are just multiple secrets," Mr. Stark commented, lips quirked up in a smirk. "The harder someone goes to hide a secret the more fun it is to find it." He pulled out his phone and started tapping away. "So lets see…" He looked Johnny up and down for several moments then turned to Natasha. "SHIELD custody you said?" He didn't wait, focusing once more on his phone, talking to himself as he started digging around on the internet. "Huh…."
"Not a very interesting secret is it?" Johnny asked as he moved around the table clearing away the dishes for the dessert round.
Stark looked at his phone then to the younger man who was their waiter for the night. "No. No, that's not it. Just... really?" He held his phone up for Johnny with a look of disbelief.
Johnny leaned to the side to look at Mr. Stark's phone screen. He grinned in reply. "No, not it. Though it is not a secret, neither is it something I talk about. You know the type. The pink elephant with the green polka dots wearing a tutu in that god awful shade of purple." That got a laugh out of everyone. "Besides, it was a job that paid the bills for a few months and I still get a revenu check quarterly." He shrugged, not at all concerned that Stark was poking around, looking for info on him. "And now ladies and gentlemen, I'll be right back with your dessert." With a half bow, he left for the kitchen. By now the restaurant had been cleared of the last customer and the staff was in the process of cleaning up. Upon entering the kitchen, the pastry chef had just finished plating the dessert. The classic Italian dessert tiramisu and bicerin (Italian coffee). "I don't think anything else is going to be ordered," he told the manager as he loaded the tray. A glance at the clock and a sigh. 'He is going to be so pissed that I didn't call to let him know I was working late. Too late now,' he thought to himself as he headed back with the desserts.
By the time dessert had been consumed and everyone was ready to go, Cantellines had been officially closed for almost two hours. The only staff members left was the manager, the assistant manager, johnny and two members of the cleaning staff. Johnny's normal shift had extended from six hours to almost ten hours and he still wasn't done for the day. He had another job to do elsewhere that required him not to be noticed by anyone that could report it.
As he escorted the group to the door, he bid them a safe and pleasant evening then turned to Natasha. "Ms. Romanoff, as nice, and surprising, as it was to see you again, I sincerely hope I do not cross paths with you any time soon outside of work. My life is stressful enough as is on a normal day dealing with the usual."
Natasha lips quirked up tiny bit from her usual 'I'm in public and playing nice' smile. A smile that promised no such thing. "Oh, I'm sure I'll be seeing you around." With that, she reached up and patted him on the cheek before taking Bruce's proffered arm.
Johnny held up his hands in surrender as he huffed a laugh and shook his head. "Ok, I deserved that," he muttered heading to the back to retrieve his coat and tips for the evening. He left via the front door so that the manager could lock up for the night. He didn't get more than half a block before the goombas his other employer called security showed up in a standard black SUV. Thirty minutes later and a complete change of clothes, he stepped from the vehicle and quietly vanished into the alley shadows.