Steve parked his bike a discreet distance from the school and wandered through the neighborhood. Trying not to gawk at how the city had changed over the decades, he still felt more at home here than he did at the Tower. This was a working class neighborhood, like the one he'd grown up in. People raised families here, and worked and toiled for a living. This is the kind of place he'd imagined he'd end up after the War.
There was a small diner on the corner across the street from the school, and Tony went in for lunch. The cost of… well everything was still shocking to him, and he spent a lot of time deliberating if a grilled cheese sandwich was really worth eight dollars. He could have had steak every night, for a week, before… He'd only brought twenty with him, which had seemed exorbitant at the time now seemed like not enough. Pepper had said that he could use any of the little plastic card things in place of money, just about everywhere, but that seemed ridiculous to him. Who'd take a plastic card and a promise to pay it back from a stranger over cold, hard cash?
Finally he decided to just get a cheeseburger, even if it was the most expensive item on the menu, because it wasn't like it was his money anyway. He wasn't sure if the money and cards came from SHIELD or Stark but he didn't like owing either of them. He had to find a way to get some independence. He might have to get a job… if that was even possible. The world moved so fast, and other than being "Captain America" he didn't really have any marketable skills.
The waitress brought the cheeseburger, and the smell of it was just heavenly. Maybe it actually was worth nine dollars. He lifted the burger and smiled a little. He knew that meat shortages were a thing of the past, but this still felt like a luxury.
"I thought you put Natasha on surveillance," Stark slid into the booth across from him.
Steve sighed and put his hamburger down. "I thought you were working on tech for Barton."
"Got bored." Stark smiled at the waitress and tapped the table when she held out a menu. "I don't like things handed to me." He winked at her. She dropped it on the table and promised to be back in a moment.
"What's that about?" Steve asked, flicking his eyes to the menu and up again. He took a bite of his burger.
Stark flipped open the menu. "Just a peeve." He looked up and called over to the waitress. "What he's having, and a milkshake too."
"The milkshakes are four dollars!" Steve pointed out.
Stark just stared at him, "They're $3.95." He leaned out of the booth again. "And one for my friend here too!"
"Stark!" Steve protested.
"Live a little," Stark stretched out on his side of the booth, looking odd in his expensive suit. "It's just a milkshake."
It's just food, clothing and a place to live. And a motorcycle, with a helmet with a heads up display and JARVIS. It's just a team to lead…
It made Steve feel small to accept all this charity. But that was his problem, not Stark's.
"So why are you here?" Stark grinned at the waitress as she dropped off the cheeseburger and shakes.
Steve shrugged. "A bit of cabin fever, mostly," he said honestly. He glanced at the school. "And I just wanted to get a look at the kid. You?"
"You've never left the Tower before," Stark shrugged. "I was curious."
Steve started at that, nonplussed. "Yes, I have!" he thumped his helmet. "That's why you gave me this, remember?"
"Yeah, you've gone out grocery shopping," Stark said around the straw in his milkshake. He chewed on it as he continued speaking. "Which I have people for you know-"
"Yeah, you do. I don't," Steve said shortly, stabbing a french fry into his ketchup. It was a matter of personal responsibility. It was the same reason that he didn't allow maids in his quarters. I wonder if they've been cleaning the rest of the floor. I bet it's gotten all musty. He hadn't gotten the courage up to explore yet. Opening those doors made them "his."
Stark sniffed and picked up his burger. "Yeah, I'm just sayin', mi casa es su casa and my help is your help."
"My house is your house, but in Spanish."
"I don't want… help," Steve muttered. "Not that kind." He looked up and stared at Stark.
"What?" He said around a mouthful of burger.
"I don't think I've ever seen you eat… besides the shawarma."
"Yeah. Takes up too much time," He took another bite.
Steve shook his head. The man didn't sleep or eat…he was amazed he'd lasted this long. He made a note to ask JARVIS more in detail about Stark's habits and health or Pepper, they were the only one's close enough to know his habits intimately. The suit did a lot of the heavy lifting for Stark, but in an extended battle his body might give out and leave him vulnerable. He probably needed to be put on a calisthenics routine as well as a diet to shape him up.
Stark glanced towards the window. "Oh, hey look, escapees."
Steve checked his watch. "School isn't out yet."
"Hence, they are escaping their classes."
"That bunch," the waitress said, seeing their attention. "Bunch of brats. They come in every day for lunch and never tip. Always take up my tables and just make pests of themselves."
"What are their parent's teaching them?" Stark said with mocking horror.
"Not manners, that's for sure," She shook her head, then faked a smile as the gaggle of students came in.
"Hey, Flo!" A large blonde haired boy called over to the waitress. He had a pretty cheerleader type with him. The other boys in the group all looked big and beefy, and they were wearing team jackets. Steve guessed they were probably all from the football team.
"Hi Flash," the waitress called back. "Your regulars?"
"Yeah, Flo!" Steve noted that her name badge read "Mary."
"Flash Thompson?" Steve asked the waitress.
"Yup, pride of the Panthers," she said with a roll of her eyes.
"You follow high school sports?" Stark asked, his eyebrows flaring up.
"That's the boy Parker got in a fight with."
"That moose?" Stark wiped his mouth, his hamburger done. When he did eat, he ate fast. "Well done, Parker."
"Speaking of which…" Steve said looking out the window.
"Hmmn, didn't take him for the type to cut classes," Stark said. "What do you think the chances are he'll come- oh. Here he comes. Act natural."
"He knows what we look like, Stark," Steve hissed. The boy probably wouldn't have noticed Steve if he'd been by himself. Outside of his Captain's uniform, both the red, white and blue and his dress uniform, he actually blended fairly well. Stark though, stood out like a sore thumb.
He grabbed a dessert menu and buried his attention in it. There was still a fair chance the boy wouldn't notice them. He'd chosen an out of the way booth, and the little diner was full of students and locals. Unless Peter was looking for them specifically… There was still a fair chance Steve hadn't blown this mission completely.
He glanced at Stark, who was casually drinking the remains of his milkshake.
"What?" Stark shrugged. "He either notices us or he doesn't."
"Hey Mary," Parker called as he came in, all knees and elbows. He was wearing jeans that were scruffy at the bottom and the same threadbare flannel they'd seen in the video. "Did'ja remember to save that oil for me?"
"Sure did," Mary called. "Though I don't know what you're going to do with a bunch of old cooking oil."
"Science fair project," Parker grinned as she walked behind the counter. "This one has cash prize. I'm going to make a green engine."
"With cooking oil?" Mary shook her head. "I have to pot it up for you though. I thought you'd be coming after school."
"I got a pass out for the rest of the day," Peter said proudly. "Mr. Smith had an extra credit equation in calc you could solve for a free pass out of his class."
"And you solved it," Mary smiled. "Just like you." Peter ducked his head and colored.
"So he wasn't playing hooky," Steve murmured. Stark shrugged.
"Hey, Puny Parker!" Flash swaggered over. "I thought I told you weren't allowed in this diner?"
"Gee, Biff! I'll have the homework done for you tomorrow!" Parker said in a nasally voice looking at Flash with exaggerated surprise.
Flash blinked, "What?"
"You mean we aren't re-enacting Back to the Future? I couldn't believe anyone would spout a line like that in real life." Parker spread his hands. "My mistake."
Stark snorted and choked back a chuckle.
"You little shit," Flash said and grabbed him by the collar, nearly lifting him off the floor.
"Easy, Cap." Stark hissed, and Steve realized he'd started to stand.
"Flash," Peter choked.
Flash shook the smaller boy, hard, and then dropped him.
Parker picked himself off of the floor. "You forgot to pound your fist into your palm menacingly," he said dusting off his pants. "It's bully one-oh-one. Minus 10 points Slytherin!"
"What?" Flash said pressing close to him again. "Are you still being a dumbass?"
"Actually, I believe I was being a smart-ass."
The blonde Flash had come in with tittered at that comment, and Flash's face went red. His fist went up, Parker braced for impact.
"Cap," Stark repeated. Steve shot him a look. He wasn't going to let the kid get beat on.
"Flash Thompson, what have I told you about fighting in my diner!" Mary said coming out of the back room. "Stop it now, or you'll be banned."
"Flash," the girl said coming over and wrapping her arm around his. "C'mon… I don't want to have to eat at the cafeteria. Come back to the table."
"Sure, Liz," Flash said, after a long belligerent stare at Parker. He turned back to his friends.
"Here's your oil, Peter," Mary said and handed him a large jug of cooking oil. "If you want more, just let me know."
"Thanks Mary," Peter and took it eagerly. He turned leave but kept looking at Mary, "I don't know what I'm going to power the motor with… if I make something cool I may be b-"
Steve saw Flash's foot jab out too late.
"-aaack!" Peter actually managed to avoid the foot Flash put in his path, hopping on one foot and doing a pretty impressive pirouette. His foot came down on his shoelaces and he stumbled over a chair. He went down and the oil flew up and out of his hands. "No, no!" He grabbed for it.
Steve saw it. The moment the boy realized he could catch it, but had to let it drop to keep his secret. Because probably no one would connect Peter Parker's amazing catch with Spider-man, but maybe someone would. He saw the resignation flash in the boy's eyes and his fingers draw back just a hair to prevent catching the oil.
Parker landed hard, and the oil jug burst open dousing him. He lay there soaking in smelly fryer oil. "Shoot."
"Oh Peter!" Mary gasped running around the counter and putting a hand over her mouth.
The other teenagers in the diner burst in to uproarious laughter. A couple were holding little devices up. Cellphones, portable telephones, Fury had given him a primer. But why were they holding the telephones like that…
"What are they-" Steve started to ask.
"Cameras," Stark said shortly. "This will all be on Youtube before he hits the door."
Steve didn't know what a Utube was, maybe some kind of missile? Like a torpedo off a Uboat? Whatever it was, it was bad.
Parker's face was resigned. He slopped back his hair and slowly rose to his feet. He slipped and slid a few times, which made his classmates laugh harder. He glanced at them and Steve could see the bright burn of anger and shame across his cheeks and the tips of his ears.
"I'm…I'm sorry, Mary," He said apologetically. "I'll… I'll clean it up."
"Don't worry about it, Peter," Mary said with an exasperated wave. "Just go home and clean yourself up."
"Thanks," Peter's shoulders were hunched. He slipped and slid over the linoleum towards the door. He was very careful to watch his feet and not glance at the group of students still filming him. He paused at the door, and impossibly his shoulders dipped further.
"Um, Mary," He said, looking over his shoulder.
"Can I come by for oil tomorrow? I, uh, still need it for my project."
Flash thought this was the funniest thing ever. He clapped his hands as he laughed himself out of breath.
"Sure thing, Peter," Mary said glaring at the unrepentant football player. "You get home now."
"Thanks," Peter pushed the door open and then promptly fell on his ass as his oil coated feet slipped out from underneath him. The students roared, and the boy finally shattered. He stood, pushed his way onto pavement and broke into a run.
Steve wanted nothing more than to march across the room and show those stupid kids what it felt like to have someone bigger and tougher than you get in your face.
"Let me just… take that," Stark said and tugged at the crumpled dessert menu in Steve's hands. He laid it flat and made a pass at it with his hand. "Yeah. That's a loss." He crumpled it up and tossed it over his shoulder. "Sorry." He said to the person sitting in the booth behind them.
He looked at Steve. "Breathe, Cap." He looked up.
"Hey, Mary," he called. "When you get a moment, could you get my friend here a piece of pie?" He gestured to Steve. "Apple? Yeah." He sniffed. "Apple! Make it two." He held up two fingers.
"Sure thing, sweetie," Mary called back.
"I don't want any pie," Steve muttered.
"Sure you do," Stark replied breezily. "Oh, hey, we should call Tasha." When Steve just stared at him, he raised an eyebrow. "She's bugging the kid's house. The one he's currently running home too?" He made a face. "I'll do it." He pulled out a mini-Stark tablet.
"Hey Tash," Stark said. "Yeah, I know you're busy. Just wanted to let you know the kid left school and is on his way home." He paused, rolled his eyes at Steve. "'Cause I know. I do. Because maybe I'm a better spy than you."
He threw himself back against the booth and flailed a hand at what ever Romanov was saying on the other line. "I saw him. Yeah. I'm across from the school. Nice little diner, great milkshakes." He frowned. "No, I'm not trying to blow the mission. And when was this a mission?" He put his forehead down on the table in mock weariness. "Yes, Cap knows." He said, his voice muffled by the table. "Because he's here with me."
He sat up, "So that makes it okay?" He made a face. "Love you too." He sighed. "Get out of the kid's house." He hung up the phone and sniffed.
Mary came by with their pie and took their dirty plates. They both waited for her to leave before looking at each other
Stark looked up at Tony. "You calm now?"
Embarrassed by his strong reaction to the incident, Steve ducked his head. "I don't like bullies."
"Yeah, that moose is an asshole." Stark dug into his pie. "This pie is great Mary!" he called out.
"What?" Stark said around a mouthful of pie.
"Could you tone down the language?" Steve shifted in his seat and looked around. "We're in mixed company, and there are kids around."
Stark looked around. "Believe me, the little fuckers have heard a lot worse than "asshole."
"Yeah, you're going to have to get over that one," Stark said, digging back into his pie. "That's hardly a swear word anymore."
Steve shook his head and dug into the pie. For a moment there was silence as the two men scraped their plates.
"I think the boy is a good egg," Steve said finally, into his plate. He glanced at Stark and then back down.
"Don't use puppy eyes on me," Stark said shaking his head. "We aren't calling off the mission."
"I don't use puppy eyes!" Steve said, straightening. "And when was this a mission?" he asked, unintentionally parroting Stark's line from earlier.
"Since you sent Clint to 'engage' him as a test run, and Natasha to bug his house!" Stark said. "And you so do puppy eyes, all the time." He did an impression, ducking his head and then lifting it with fake soulfulness.
"I don't do that," Steve said firmly, in his manliest voice.
"Sure you don't. You're like a big patriotic Labrador." Stark shook his head, and licked a thumb, picking up the last bits of crumbs off his plate with it. He chewed on it a bit, as if trying to get every last bit of flavor. "Anyway, we still need more info, even if I agree with you."
"You agree with me?" Steve said, with a piece of pie halfway to his lips.
"You and I both know that Peter could have taken that moose apart with his pinkie finger," Stark pushed his plate away. "He chose not to. He could be king shit at his school, and instead he keeps up the nerdy punching bag role. Someone in it for the perks wouldn't do that."
Steve remembered that flash of resignation he'd seen when the boy tripped. "Yeah."
"But we still need to get a handle on him. Just because he thinks he's doing the right thing doesn't mean he's not dangerous. The most dangerous men always think they're doing the right thing."
"I'm familiar with that one," Steve said.
Thanks everyone for the reviews and follows so far! Sorry it takes me so long to post up chapters on here. :)