Author note: All characters owned by Marvel. I don't own anything and mean no disrespect. Please don't sue :)
The two men stood in the ring in full sparing gear and sized each other up. Both were of almost equal height, and while a few pounds of muscle separated them, the most extreme difference between them was their age. By looking at them no one would be able to tell that it was a gulf of decades. The gym was almost silent but there was a low hum of excitement. Had this been an elementary school yard the age-old chant of, "Fight! Fight! Fight!" would have been spreading like wild fire. But as this was a government operation, so there was just the low sound of wagers being placed and odds being given.
"You sure that you want to do this?" the slightly bigger blonde man said through his mouth guard. He stood swinging his arms and running in placing to warm up his body.
"Absolutely," said the dark haired man at the other side of the ring, "I think you've taught me enough so that I can make a go of it." He gave a cocky grin around his own mouth guard and rolled his shoulders.
"All right then. Just try to remember what I've been attempting to teach you for the past month."
"Sure thing. And don't worry I'll go easy on you."
It was the general consensus of all gathered that Tony Stark was an arrogant bastard and needed to be taken down a peg. Oh sure, he was a certified genius with a very lethally efficient suit of armor, but he was not the odds on favorite. Well, maybe the odds on favorite to get his ass beat. And if anyone were going to do it, it might as well be Captain America. Cap was heavily favored to give Tony a righteous beating. Even Nick Fury had put down a few dollars. It was no secret that there was little love lost between the stone faced head of S.H.E.I.L.D and the billionaire industrialist.
Cap shrugged. He liked Tony, hell Cap liked almost everybody, but even he wouldn't deny that Stark was a real SOB. But Cap had more than his fair share of leading men into battle, and there was something about Stark that burned with, for the lack of a better term, potential. So yes, he liked Tony, but this still wasn't going to be pretty.
"Ok Buttercup, let's dance," Cap said as he advanced.
"Sure thing handsome," Tony said with a laugh.
The men circled each other. Cap had decided to let Tony make the first move, and he didn't have to wait long. Tony came at him with a haymaker that Cap easily deflected and stepped through with a sharp jab to the ribs. Tony pulled back to reset, watching Cap warily, looking for an opening. There was no modern, trendy, or clever name for Cap's fighting style, but there were several adjectives. No holds barred, brutal, and effective. Even with the sparring gear Tony had felt that jab.
They circled each other again. Tony stepped in and tried for a fake with his left to finish with his right, but Cap read the move. He didn't fall for the fake but instead stepped into the punch with a forearm block and followed through with jab to the side of Tony's head. They circled again and Tony tried the same move again, but with a right fake this time. Once again Cap blocked and Tony got another punch to the head for his troubles, only this time Cap put a little more force into it. He was hoping that Tony would get the point he was trying to make. Tony made a third attempt with the same results, but this time Cap didn't hold back. Tony staggered back a few paces.
"Dammit Cap! Stop punching me in the head!" Tony said his temper starting to rise.
"I will as soon as you stop me."
Tony took a deep breath to settle himself and started running through his options, so he was rather unprepared when Cap came on the offensive. Tony was fast, and he had applied himself to Cap's lessons, so he was able to block most of the blows. But Cap pushed his advantage and took Tony down with a leg sweep. Tony knew how to fall and as he went down he planted both heels into Cap's chest knocking them apart. Cap staggered back a few feet, and after landing with a loud smack, Tony was able to get to his feet before he had to engage Cap again. But he was starting to loose his cool a bit.
Tony didn't give Cap anytime to recover instead coming in close to land a few body blows. Cap blocked most but not all, and as he planned his next move he gave an inward sigh. He had warned Tony about fighting angry. It's not about revenge; it was about winning, and by extension staying alive. So he waited for Tony's temper to get the best of him and lead to an error. When it came Cap was ready. Frustrated that not all of his punches were landing as he wanted, Tony dropped his left and put too much into his right. Cap saw the chin duster coming from almost a mile away. He stepped neatly aside grabbing Tony's over extended arm and threw him.
Of those watching, no one was really sure what had happened. And neither was Tony for that matter. One instant his was trying to knock Cap's head off with a punch, and the next he was hurled, literally hurled, across the length of the ring, landing and sliding a few feet to come to rest against the ropes. Tony's sweat left a dark trail across the floor of the ring. His head filled with white noise and he was pretty sure that he relived a few moments from his childhood. Hearing a cough Tony turned to see his driver, a former heavy weight boxer, trying to hide a smirk.
"I thought you were on my side Happy," Tony growled as he pugnaciously got to his feet.
"It was a nice move," Happy said neutrally as he arranged his face into a blank wall. "I can appreciate the artistry."
Tony shook his head, sweat flying and waded back in.
"Nice little bit of Krav Maga there Cap," Tony growled through his mouth guard.
"Craw ma what now?" Cap said confused.
Tony gave a small inward flinch, realizing that Steve was on ice, and at the bottom of the ocean, before Israel was even a country, let alone developing a ruthlessly efficient military fighting style.
"Never mind, I'll fill you in later. You could give lessons."
Tony advanced on Cap again. He saw an opening and went for it. Stepping into Cap, Tony brought his knee swiftly into Cap's ribs, followed by and elbow to the head. The knee connected, but the elbow didn't. Cap simply shifted his weight, grabbed Tony by his chest protector, which admittedly was a bit difficult with the sparring gloves, and dropped him to the floor again. However, Tony surprised him with a neat leg sweep and Cap went down too. Both men sprang swiftly back to their feet and eyed each other warily.
It had only been about two minutes since the start of this little exercise, but both men were sweating heavily and Tony was starting to become tired. He could never tell how this type of thing wore on Cap's stamina however. Thanks due entirely to the Super Soldier Serum. Which did give him an advantage, but then again Tony had a flying suit of armor, so all's fair really. But the sweat was pooling behind his chest protector and making the skin around the arc reactor itch. 'Suck it up Stark', he mentally chastised himself. He definitely did not want to give Fury the satisfaction of watching him get his ass beat by a piece of American history. Tony circled closer, calculating.
Cap came at him again, getting in a few decent, (ok – great), punches before Tony was able to maneuver himself a better angle, get Cap in a clinch with it in mind to drive him into the ground. But once again Cap was able to grab him by the chest protector and fling him away. Tony landed with a meaty smack, and felt some of his vertebrae pop. Huh, who needed a chiropractor when you had Captain Fucking America. Stupid chest protector. His temper breaking loose now, Tony bounced to his feet. When asked later he couldn't recall how he had done it. Adrenaline and anger probably. With a snarl he ripped off his chest protector. It was a relief to get out of the damn thing. Sweat ran down his torso and he gave an almost absent minded scratch at his reactor implant with the back of his gloved hand. A slight murmur was heard going around the ring at the sight of the arc reactor. It didn't even register for Tony.
Cap, always the paragon of fair play, removed his chest protector as well but said wearily,
"You sure you want to do that Tony?"
"Fuck yes!" came the angry reply.
Cap gave an audible sigh as he dropped the padding in the corner of the ring. "What did I tell you about fighting angry Tony?" Cap said in an even voice. Not taunting, not scolding, but matter of fact. As it this was the hundredth time he had given Stark this warning. It probably was.
Tony charged Cap, shoulder down. The impact was audible, and in his fury Tony actually was able to lift Cap off his feet driving him back towards the ropes. Cap drove both elbows into Tony's back causing him to lose his momentum and grip around Cap's torso. They both went down in a heap. There was a flurry of limbs, followed by a loud,
"God dammit!" and the sound of ripping Velcro.
Tony emerged, without the headgear, from the head lock that Cap had him in. Cap tossed the headgear aside, then removed his own. But Tony didn't hesitate for longer than a heartbeat, anger and frustration driving him back into the fray. The sound of hard punches landing was the only thing heard for a almost a minute. Finally it was evident that Cap had had enough. Whether it was that his own iron grip on his temper was staring to slip, or he just wanted to end it before someone got seriously hurt was not evident to the onlookers. The watchers crowed in closer to the ring, sensing an end in sight.
Only two figures stood apart from those who pressed closer to the ring. One was Tony Stark's famously unflappable PA, Pepper Potts. The other was Nick Fury. No one ever really knew what Pepper thought of most things. Her poker face so unreadable that there were professionals in Las Vegas who would mortgage their souls to have one tenth of the mastery over their expressions that Pepper did. Whether it was an interest in her boss's well being or just a rare chance to see Tony hoisted by his own petard that made Pepper look up from her ever present Blackberry and actually stop typing, it was not evident to the outside observer.
Fury stood, arms folded across his chest, and glared at the goings out of his remaining eye. No one knew how he had lost the one. No one was suicidal enough to ask. The fact that Fury and Stark went at it hammer and tongs at almost every interaction was only one facet of the type of intensity that radiated off of the man. His mouth set in a grim line, Fury looked like he was putting his not inconsiderable force of personality into willing Tony to get his ass stomped. But he was also intrigued by the mettle that both men were displaying. All information was being filed away into his internal database for later use. If there was one thing that Nick Fury had learned as head of S.H.I.E.L.D, it was that nothing more openly displayed a person's true nature than conflict. He flashed a smile so faint, that unless you knew what to look for, you would miss it. Pepper didn't. She made a mental note herself and went back to watching Tony and Cap duke it out. Pondering just what she would spend her money one when Tony lost. She was not vindictive, just a realist. There was a new pair of come hither stilettos that she had her eye on. . .
Cap had Tony in a bear hug, with Tony's feet almost a foot of the floor. Tony managed to wriggle free, helped in part by the fact he was too sweaty to hang onto. But as soon as his feet hit the floor, Cap swept them and Tony landed on his back, the back of his head cracking against the floor. In pain and anger he lashed out with his leg, catching Cap squarely in the balls with the top of his foot. There was a collective intake of breath from all males present. Pepper had the manners to at least wince in sympathy. If that had been Tony's intent or not, it was effective.
Cap made a strangled sound deep in his throat. He kept his feet for only a second longer before he ever so slowly crumpled to his knees, hands gently cradling his testicles. Tony sat up rubbing the back of his head. Blinking the sweat out of his eyes he saw the aftermath of his blind strike.
"Oh shit," he said in a quiet voice.
The room was deathly quiet, only Caps ragged gasps audible. Tony got to his feet and went to where Cap was on all fours trying not to vomit in pain. He bent down, putting a hand lightly on Cap's heaving shoulder.
"Oh shit Steve. I'm really, really sorry," Tony said in an embarrassed mumble. "I swear to god I didn't mean. . ." He broke off as Cap rocked back on his heels, then shakily got to his feet. After a gut wrenching moment he straightened his back. Tony took a step back.
"Uh, want to call it a draw?" Tony said with a lopsided grin.
Tony never saw the punch that knocked him unconscious. All he knew was one minute he was vertical and the next he wasn't. Cap pulled his punch at the last possible moment, so Tony's nose didn't break. But it was a near thing.
No one said anything as Cap looked down at the motionless form leaking blood from his nose and mouth. He took a deep breath and with an exaggerated care, he limped out of the ring and towards the locker room. All eyes went from Cap's retreating back to Tony's prostrate form, then back to Cap.
The spell was broken by the sharp ding of the ringside bell. All eyes swiveled in the direction of the sound to find Happy Hogan looking nonplussed. He gave a half shrug.
"Anyone up for a round two?" he asked in a lugubrious tone.
One hour, four ice packs and a hot shower later Steve closed his locker door and headed for the locker room exit. A female voice caught his attention. It had taken him months to get used to the fact that this was a co-ed locker room. A fact that still did not sit well with him. But the world had spun on without him for more than half a century, so he had to just accept that people found him and his ways to be "old fashioned". But it was the terse tone that followed that grabbed his attention. He drifted deeper into the locker room in search for the source of the voices.
He found Tony and Pepper. Tony was sitting on a bench trying to put on his tie. He had showered, but the hot water had not done his face any good. Both eyes were blackened, the bruising sinking lower on his face across his nose. A strip of white medical tape was placed across the bridge of his nose to keep his airway open. The right side of his jaw was slightly puffy. To say that his expression was sour was an understatement.
This was in sharp contrast to the willowy and impeccably dressed form of his PA. Her suit unmarred and crisp, her strawberry blonde ponytail swung gently at her neck as she gave her head a slight shake in response to Tony's last grumbled comment. She was completely unflappable in the face of her boss's acidic mood. She just tapped unhurriedly on her Blackberry. Steve couldn't help himself, his eyes moving slowly from her feet in diabolically high stilettos, up her shapely calves to the spot where they became obscured by her pencil skirt. He gave an inward sigh. He had always appreciated a nice pair of stems.
"I have rescheduled your photo shoot with GQ," Pepper said blandly, "stating, hmmm.., a sudden conflict." The corner of Peppers mouth ticked up slightly as Tony tried to give her a hard stare. It failed to be affective. "But you still have the board meeting downtown at 5. I am sorry, but I don't think cover-up will help. There is only so much magic I can work in a day." she said in a sardonic tone, completely ignoring the black look Tony gave her as he struggled with his tie. His hands didn't seem to want to work, and he couldn't quite tell if the ends were even as his vision was slightly obscured by the swelling around his eyes.
"Tony, Ms. Potts." Cap said cordially as he fully rounded the corner. He gave a sympathetic whistle. "Sorry about that old man, I would put a steak on that if I were you."
Pepper turned to give Cap a genuine and bright smile. Tony's scowl deepened. "Ah, Steve," she said in slightly delighted tone. "Glad to see that," she hesitated a moment as she bit her bottom lip, "there was no permanent damage."
Cap flushed slightly at her comment. These "modern" girls, they never ceased to shock him, he never knew how to respond to statements like that.
"Yeah well." Cap trailed off and turned to Tony. "Look Stark, I uh. Want to apologize for," he pointed in a vague manner at Tony's face.
Tony grunted, but Pepper gave him a look that could have melted steel. Tony gave an exaggerated sigh and heaved himself to his feet. "Well all things being equal, I guess I deserved it." Tony extended a hand. Cap took it in a firm grasp and gave it one crisp shake.
"Well next time I will be a little faster with my counter measures," Cap said evenly. "You have to learn not to fight angry Tony. It never ends well. For anyone."
Tony gave a snort, but he smiled as much as his swollen face would allow.
"I'm headed home, to put my feet up." Cap gave a slight wince as he shifted his weight. "Tony. Ms. Potts, always a pleasure." Cap gave Pepper his best recruiting poster smile and took her hand raising it gently to his lips and brushed a kiss lightly to the back of her hand. With another nod and smile Cap walked out. There was only a slight hitch in his stride.
Tony noticed the slight flush that had crept up the back of Pepper's neck as she watched Cap leave. He didn't think that he liked the wistful smile that flashed briefly across her face as she turned back to face him. Pepper saw Tony's expression and carefully molded a placid look on her face. She said nothing as she started to tie his tie for him.
"He's old enough to be your grandfather you know," Tony said peevishly.
"Hm." Pepper said in a noncommittal tone as she completed the Windsor knot, "Good manners never go out of style Mr. Stark." She gave the knot an extra tug. Tony gave a slight wince as it pinched his neck.
"If I didn't know better Potts," Tony snapped as he hurriedly loosened his tie, "I would have though that you had money on this or something." He gave her a searching look. But her face betrayed nothing.
"Good thing you know better, then isn't it?" Pepper said mildly as they moved towards the door. She was already mentally trying on her new shoes.