Things aren't as pretty
On the inside
-Nine Inch Nails, "Only"

Back in Steve Rogers' day, someone with a private jet was a test pilot in a one-seater.

Tony poked him.

"Wake up, Cap. Your country needs you. Well, strictly speaking, another country, South of your country needs you. Doesn't matter. Get up."

"Mmph., said Rogers, and turned over. "No more shawarma, Ma..."

"Seriously, Steve, get up. Jeez. Adolf could've taken you outta the war with a glass of warm milk and a teddy bear. C'mon, get up."

Steve stayed down.

Frowning, Stark pulled out his phone, found an audio clip of a gun firing, turned up the volume, and hit play.

Steve's eyes snapped open, and he surged forward in his seat, his left hand reaching for the phone and twisting it out of Tony's grip. His right hand came up toward Tony's sternum in a punch that would certainly have ruined his day and a few of his ribs if Cap hadn't stopped himself an inch away from the cotton of his light David August suit.

"This isn't a gun," Steve said, blinking sleep out of his eyes.

"I know. Most cell phones aren't."

"Sorry. Wasn't there an easier way to get me up?"

Tony opened his mouth, then closed it.

"First things first," said Steve. "Where are we?" He looked out the window and winced at the bright light.

"Mexico. There's a resort, I figured we needed a break".

"I thought we were going to see your dad's grave."

"He's not going anywhere. C'mon, let's go."

Even the Stark Freon-free green air-conditioner couldn't hold off the desert heat, and it started getting oppressive before Steve got halfway to the door. He shucked off his jacket, and left it on the jet.

The heat hit him like a brick to the face.

Tony's disguise, coming off the plane, consisted of a baseball cap and a fake beard. Which didn't seem to be particularly useful, considering that the jet's call sign was "Stark Force Two", but those sorts of little details didn't seem to be the sort of things Tony cared much about.

"Hola, Mr. Stark," said the limo driver. The car was red with gold trim, of course. Very inconspicuous.

"Hola, Emilio," said Stark, and continued to ask about the driver's kids and home life. Apparently, those were the sorts of little details he did care about.

Steve grabbed some shades someone had left in a seat-back pocket and slipped them on, cutting the desert sunlight to merely blinding.

Stark didn't bother to disguise his height, that classic Stark rooster-strut. It's not like anyone was within a mile of the place anyway, unless they were in the airport proper, but Steve's back still itched with that old sniper-worry. Of course, if someone had wanted to take them out, they probably would just plant a bomb in the car.


"We're on our way to a hotel," Tony said, once they were underway. "All expenses paid. Wine, women, song."

"I can't get drunk, the last girl I was interested in uses a walker, and I don't do karaoke."

"Play Track five. Waitwaitwait - You can't get drunk?" said Stark, with the gleam in his eye of a man facing a challenge that he's about to enjoy. His dad's gleam, in fact.

"No, I can't," said Steve, as Jimmy Buffet's "Margaritaville" started to waft through the limo.

"Maybe you haven't tried hard enough. Maybe you haven't found the right bottle."

"I've tried," Steve said, as his eyes went flat and distant. Oo-kay, obviously a touchy subject. Time to steer back towards safer waters. "Have you considered a haircut? Where do you even find a guy who does hair like that?"

"Brooklyn. I'm pretty sure his daughter has a crush on me. Who does yours?"

"A team of French sty - nah, I'm kidding. I give it to a robot with some clippers."

An awkward silence, over the next mile or so.

"We need to talk. Just two guys, talking. We never get to talk. Always interrupted by work, or alien invasions, or magic sticks that make people fight."

"Okay. Sports. Guys still talk about sports, right?"

"Mostly about steroids and golf players having affairs."

"Back in the day, I liked baseball." Steve held up a hand. "Please, I've heard all the Red Sox jokes."

"I'm more of a Yankees man myself," Tony admitted.

"Are you now?"

Tony nodded.

"Maybe we do have something in common. This place we're going to -"


"They got any fondue?"

Turned out they did. It also turned out Romanov had gotten into the vodka.

Steve ordered a Coke, which came in a glass bottle. Thor was working the bar, and it said something about how strange Steve's life had gotten that a demigod serving Mojitos didn't faze him.

He had worked with Russians once or twice. Good people. Hard people. Learning about the Cold War made his head spin, though. It had been fun to waltz into the CIA archives and show them his old security clearances, which were older than the people working there. Since the Strategic Scientific Reserve had become SHIELD, they were somehow still valid. Thank Heaven for American bureaucracy. Steve smiled.

"See?" Tony yelled, about an inch from Steve's ear. You are having fun!"

Steve shook his head. "Still not drunk."

"Well, that's a sha-wait, you're not even trying, are you? Give me that!"

"Tony, no!"


"Stop it!"

"C'mon, Cap, get hammered! No pun intended-"

"Alright, fine!"


"Yes. I'll do my level best to get drunk. Blink, stinking drunk. And it won't work. Do you think Thor can make a...Key Lime Margarita, I think it's called?"

"Good question. Oh Thooor!"

Turned out he could. Tony bolted the first one, just by way of taste test, and ordered two more. Then he sent one to Cap's table with the waitress.

"Here you go, Capitan."

"Please, call me Steve."

The curvy young lady smiled, blushed, and vanished.

Nice dimples.

Funny thing about the smell in the place; it smelt more or less like every bar he had ever been to. The last time he had a drink was when Bucky died, and that bar had been torn apart by a V2. The only thing left there had been dust, and the few remaining bottles the looters somehow hadn't got to.

And a glass that made the whiskey taste like ashes.

If he closed his eyes, if he ignored the wind rustling at the doors to the pool, he could imagine he was in a New York dive. Or a pub in London. Or a cafe in Paris. It was the smell, that sickly-sweet smell of a thousand spilled beers-

Someone sat in one of the other seats at the table, the one closest to the door, and Steve's eyes snapped open. It was Barton. Hawkeye.

"Hey," he said.

"Hey," Steve said.

Barton looked a lot like a regular tourist, even by 40s standards. Shorts, brightly colored t-shirt, tank top, sandals, sunscreen on his nose. The only bad notes were the cell phone pouch on his belt and the dark shades pushed up on his forehead, like some sort of cross between the shades on a Secret Service agent and something a cat might wear.

Except bigger.

"Just wanted to let you know that if you need help dealing with something, anything, you can talk to me, or the SHIELD psychiatrist. Like Phil."

"He was a shrink?"

"No, I mean you can talk to the shrinks about him."

"I'm fine, thanks."

"Really? What did you do after Barnes died?"

"Tried to get drunk and then took Hydra's main base."

"What did you do after Phil died?"

"Fought off those aliens."

"And what," Barton took a sip of his Bud. "Are you doing now?"

"This was Tony's idea."

"And you went along with it? Trust me Rogers, I know. You're hurting." He reached forward, patted Steve on the knee. "Talk to someone."

"And you? Any problems with Loki putting the Jedi Mind Trick on you?"

"Yeah, but I'm okay, more or less." He stared past Steve with a funny look on his face, and the New Yorker turned to see Romanov at the bar. "Been thinking about some things."

"Well, I certainly can't fault your taste."

"I'm not sure anyone could." He picked up Steve's bottle cap, and stood up. He was a few feet away when Steve asked "Does Tony...ever talk about Phil?"

"Something about starting a foundation."

"Good. That's good."

Barton smiled, turned his back to Steve, and tossed the bottle cap over his shoulder. It cleared Steve's head, bounced off the rim of his Coke bottle, and landed neatly in the ashtray.

"I used to hustle people out of their beer money back in college. Later." And he headed back toward the bar.

Their cover, such as it was, was pretty well blown. Tony had a...distinctive way of partying, Thor stood out, Romanov was a very loud drunk, and - Steve looked down at his clothes - he wasn't exactly inconspicuous either. How many six foot blond-blue eyed men in 40s clothing were there in the world, anyway? A fair amount, really, but he was the only one who had been in the papers, and he still didn't know what a "hipster" was.

Bruce sat down in the same chair Barton had just left, wearing nothing but a bathrobe, and he was dripping wet under it.


"Hi. Um."

"Oh. Sorry." And Banner closed his legs.

"Thanks. Been for a swim?"


Steve waited for it.

"In the ocean."

"Which is , I don't know, about three miles from here?"

"Yeah, I kinda had to walk back."


"I just acted like another lost tourist, they stuffed me in a cab, and the valet paid when I got here. I said I had gotten drunk and blacked out and woke up in the ocean."

"What'd he say?"

"'Ah. A guest of Senor Stark.'"

Widow had started to babble in Russian. And English. And French. And maybe a little Urdu. When Steve looked back, she had an arm curled around Barton's neck, making little smoochy noises, and he was fending her off. But not with any particular enthusiasm.

Banner raised his Corona. "To young love."

"Young? He's fifteen years older than I am. She is. You know what I mean."


"They brought a Russian in to tell me how to drink, you know. They had trainers for everything, any spare moment. Strategy, tactics, sentry elimination, social something-something."

"Social engineering?"

"Something like that. How to make people like you. Or hate you, if you needed to. Useful if you needed them too ticked off to think."

"Heh. I learned how to not piss off guys in every language around the world."

"Does it always work?"

"No. It's really hard not to go Green when you know, for a fact, that you could flatten the guy shoving you around. And probably the whole block. I got messed with a lot in school, so...bad memories."

"You too?"

"Yeah, I wasn't the biggest guy. Still aren't. Most of the time."

"I kept having my head handed to me by jerks. Never liked a bully. Even if they weren't bothering me, I'd still jump in."

"What've you been up to lately, anyway?"

"Been watching DVDs. I finally saw Star Wars, all six of 'em. Good stuff. I don't know why they didn't just have MacGregor play old Obi-Wan."

Bruce blinked. "Wait, what?"

"Obi-Wan. He was played by Ewan MacGregor in the first three movies, then they got Alec Guinness to play the old version. Why didn't they just put MacGregor in old man makeup?"

Bruce closed his mouth with a sharp click. He put his drink down on the table, very carefully.

"Steve," he said. "When you were looking at the credits, did you look at the copyright dates?"

Rogers looked puzzled. "No. Why would that matter?"

Bruce stood, and drained his bottle. "Give me a minute, this is a two-bottle problem."

Turned out Thor was surprisingly good at mixing drinks. Even with an appletini in one hand, he still managed to pour out Bruce's Lonely Man.

"How'd you get so good at drinks? Not exactly what I'd call part of the Norse God skillset."

"Father spent time on Earth once. He managed to live as a barkeep for five months in your San Francisco during your 80s.. Of course, he had both eyes then, and had to keep telling people he was not romantically available." He somehow managed to flip the bottle around his bicep while looking mildly disturbed at the thought of people hitting on his dad. Clearly, some things were universally constant. "He taught me after I returned, should I ever find myself on Earth and powerless again."

"How did you do that flippy-thing?"

"It's easy, compared to a sword."

"That come up often, in Asgard?"

"More than you'd think."



"What? Stark's paying for this."

"Ahem." Thor gestured toward the tip jar.

"Oh for-seriously?"

"I jest not." The god of Thunder raised an imperious eyebrow.

Bruce dug into his pocket, muttering something darkly about how this crap was irritating, tossed a ten in, and went back to the table in something of a snit, Steve's second Coke in his other hand.

"Oh, wait, the cap's still on. I can just-huh. Do you always take the cap off without a bottle opener?"

"Only when I'm too lazy to get up. Salud."


Explaining Star Wars took a while. Diagrams were involved. Steve had the natural ability to assess a battlefield instantly, but he had trouble wrapping his brain around the concept of "prequels". Then Bruce accidentally mentioned the tie-in books, games, and suchlike, and Steve wanted to know about that too. More diagrams. By the time they were done, they were both very confused.

"Okay," said Steve. "Okay. And people remember this all the time?"

"Nobody remembers all of this stuff. Not even George Lucas. Everyone just looks it up on a wiki."

"What's a wiki?"

Bruce was saved from an explanation which would have eventually required a whiteboard by Tony coming out of nowhere and draping his hand across his shoulders in the chummy fashion common to people who are drunk.

"Hey!" said Tony, and gathered his thoughts. "Hey..." he gathered his thoughts. "Hey!...Bruce!"

"You're drunk, Tony," Steve pointed out.

"Really? Really? And I just thought I was drunk. Look, I want to sell your hands."


"Not your hands. The Hulk. His hands. I want to take the Hulk's hands, and sell them. I don't want to cut them off, I just wanna, wanna sell them."

"You're talking toys," said Bruce, with his international experience in speaking Drunk Guy.

"'Zactly. Then I slip you a li'l something under the table. Like a dog. Except no. No, not a dog. C'mon. Made a mockup outta chewing gum. C'n even make it say stuff. My jaw hurts."

And off Bruce went, with a look at Steve, who merely raised his glass with a smile and a raised eyebrow.

"Sorry, pal, you're on your own."

And that was the end of the drink. And a few seconds later, the end of his Coke too. Steve got another one, and had just sat back down when -

"Cap? Captain America?"

"Well, you found me, Sherlock. Good job."

The complete stranger stepped back. "If this is a bad time..."

"No, it's just..." Steve sighed. "Sorry. Can I help you?"

"No, I just wanted to meet you." He stuck out a hand. "Steve Jones Junior, New Orleans."

Steve took it. "Steve Rogers, Brooklyn."

"You served with my grandpa-"

"Wait, wait a second..." Steve stared at the young man in front of him. Judging by his skin and features, he was at least partially black- "Gabe? You're Gabe's grandson?


"How is he?"

"He, uh, moved on."

Steve's smile faded. "I'm sorry."

'Why? You didn't kill him. He used to talk about you all the time. Said you were the best man he ever knew, hence the name. Where you been, anyway?"


"Have anything to do with your new team?" Jones gestured at the other Avengers.

"Also classified."

"I get it. Still, good job at grand Central. It's been an honor to meet you, sir." He tossed some money onto the table. "When they sober up, tell the other guys thanks." He tossed a few bills onto the table. "Your drink's on me."

Steve smiled at Jones as he left, wondering if Gabe picked up his future wife speaking French to the girls in the French Quarter. Then Tony smacked his hands down on the table, startling Steve for, what, the third time today?

"All right, I got Banner out of the way. Let's go."

"Let's go...where?"

"Got you your fondue. C'mon."

"But what about the Hulk's hands?" Steve said as Tony dragged him away, clearly not as drunk as he had been acting.

"Bruce is thinking about it. I hope he says yes, 'cause I already started making them a month ago. In here."

He swiped his key-card over the plate in the wall, then shoved Steve in ahead of him.

There wasn't much light in the room. There was a window, yes, but thick curtains were drawn across it, only letting light in around the edges.

"Oh, right," Tony said. "Left my cell phone at the bar. Be right back."

"Why are the lights out?" Steve said, but Tony was already gone. As his eyes adjusted, he saw the table and-

It was the cute waitress. There was a fondue-thing and soft lighting and little toothpicks and forks and she wasn't wearing any clothes-

She was smiling at him. Still had nice dimples. Nice everything, really.

"Um," said Steve.

Her smile faltered.

"Esteban?" she said, uncertainly.

Steve swallowed, and reached for the door.

Tony had locked it behind him.

Chapter 2 coming soon.